A lot of people have one inside of them. A novel, I mean. They think about it, they tell people about it—they might even sit down and write a few pages. But why do so few actually finish writing a novel?
For starters, it’s a big job. And when you have a lot of other things to do, it’s easy to shove your book off to the side, to be written when you have more time.
But if you are able to save it for later, it’s probably not burning a hole inside of you. (And if that’s the case, ‘later’ might never come.) If your unwritten novel haunts you when you’re at work, if you’re developing plots at night before you fall asleep and you’re annoyed with yourself when you see a novel that you could have written hit the bookstores, perhaps it’s time to figure out what’s stopping you.
Write a novel: a secret one
One way to make sure your novel stays where it is now—inside of you—is to tell everyone about it. While some of your friends will be staunch supporters, the people closest to you might feel threatened that you are branching out and trying something new. They might say things like this:
Or: “Shouldn’t you start with a short story?”
Perhaps you have someone in your life who’s even more blunt:
“But you can’t write.”
Most likely, you know who these people are. And if you find yourself unable to resist sharing your enthusiasm with them, you may want to ask yourself why you are opening yourself up to their lack of faith in you. Could it be that they are mirroring something inside of you about your ability to do this? If so, be aware that you will continue to seek naysayers until you believe you can see this project through to the end.
If you need to confide in someone, choose somebody who has always been your champion. As for everybody else? Resist the temptation to share. That way, their negative vibes won’t bring you down.
Write a novel: schedule it
If Phileas Fogg can get around the world in 80 days, you can certainly write a novel by then, too. Consider this: if you write 1,000 words a day, you will have completed your first draft of an 80,000 word novel (a good length for most debut novels) in less than three months. Writing for kids? You’ll be done in six weeks.
But maybe 1,000 words a day demands more resources than you have to spare. No worries. Cut it down to 500 words. Still too much? Shoot for 250. The point is, if you break it up into bite-sized chunks—whatever that means for you—it will be easier for you to set up a schedule and stick to it. By doing this, you'll end up with a completed novel, ready to pitch to agents in 2015.
Let your time with your book be your favorite part of the day. Look forward to it. Savor it while you are engaged in the work you ‘have’ to do. You will find that once you begin writing on a schedule, your novel will stop torturing you. Rather, you will find that the mere thought of it can buoy you up—even when other parts of your life are weighing you down.
Write a novel: choose your partner
Why not tackle this mountain with a climbing buddy? You probably have a friend who wants to write a novel, too. If not, I suspect you do have a friend who would be willing to hold you accountable, and perhaps even read chapters to give you feedback as you write.
Or maybe you feel as though you need a real taskmaster to help you get through this. For those of you who are tired of ‘wanting’ to write a book and ready to get it done, you might benefit from the upcoming National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that provides support for first-time novelists who are willing to commit the month of November to writing that first draft. On an international scale, you can join with other writers who are sick of hearing themselves talk and are ready to write—a whole book in 30 days. Through this organization, you can enjoy pep talks, inspirational stories, contests and forums, but most importantly, you can join thousands of new novelists who have decided that the time is now (or more precisely, November) to get that story written.
Ever hear about the legendary warrior who led his troops by sea onto enemy shores? When they reached land, he ordered them to burn their boats. Think about what it would take for you to embark on this adventure, with no turning back. Once you’ve written one novel, it’s a lot easier to write the second one, which is how most novelists turn writing stories into a career.
How about you? Do you have a novel inside of you? Tell us about it!
Character development in middle-grade fiction: make sure your readers know your people as well as you do
Let's say your main character is a kid who rode on your school bus when you were eight years old. Or, your main character is you when you were eight years old. But now you’re all grown up and this guy or gal is only in your head. Good character development gets these people out of your head and onto the page so they are no longer inside of you. By the time you type The End, your characters should belong to the world.
So how do you do that?
Start by re-introducing yourself to your long-ago friend. Sure you knew this kid twenty-five years ago, but that’s a long time. Remember, if you’re writing in the time-frame of your own childhood, that would be an historical novel. Maybe you wore neon orange and lime-green parachute pants as a kid, but make sure your characters dress the way kids do now.
And notice how confident elementary school children are today. They’ll say anything to anybody. Even to grown-ups (with whom they’ll be on a first-name basis). These kids tend to have a better idea of what they like—and don’t like—and they’re not shy about letting you know.
Today’s boys and girls are more likely to be best friends with each other than they were back then. They’re tech savvy, and they’re less likely to be playing jump-rope or monkeying around on jungle gyms.
And in what appears to be an evolution of consciousness, the children of today are more comfortable with talking about how they feel.
Character development: let your characters speak for themselves
You want your readers to get to know your characters by what your characters say and do. Let’s say that you want to show the reader that your eight-year-old protagonist (Jason) is lacking confidence in his ability to swim.
Here are three ways you can handle that:
1) You spell it out for your reader:
Jason hung back. He wasn’t a very good swimmer, and he always felt embarrassed when he thrashed his way across the pool.
2) Jason tells them, but in case your reader misses it, you tell them, too:
“Hey, Jason! Come on in!”
“I can’t. I forgot my towel.” Jason had hoped that no one would notice that he wasn’t swimming.
3) Let JASON show your readers how unsure he is:
Sam and Eddie dove into the deep end. The water was a shade darker—and colder, Jason thought—when the drain was so far down you could hardly see it. He grabbed a kickboard from the deck and jumped in.
"Look! I'm Eddie! I'm a big baby!" Jason held his nose with two fingers and began splashing his way across the pool. The spastic sound of his feet slapping the water trailed behind him, but all he cared about was the clock on the wall over the picnic tables. Two more minutes, and the lifeguard would blow the whistle for adult swim.
Character development: be consistent
A general rule of thumb is this: when your character talks, the reader should know who’s doing the talking without any prompting from you. While this can’t be the case for every line (Wow! Cool!—all kids say that), it’s helpful to think about this ‘test’ as you’re writing dialog. Each character should have a unique voice. I recall reading a book one time and wondering why it wasn’t working for me. It wasn’t until after I had finished the whole thing that I realized all of the characters spoke in the same witty banter.
While there might be one quirky character in a book, they can’t all be. The others need to be something different to provide contrast.
Mostly because that’s how it is in real life. Everybody’s different. And in order to create a scenario that your readers can get lost in, they need to feel the way they do when they meet real people—interested, curious and wanting to know more.
ASK MOM wins parenting media association award!
ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
Gertrude Warner Book Award
Moonbeam Children's Book Award
An adventure for kids ages 8-12— especially if they like video games!
ASK MOM Archives