Saturday, 5 July 2008

How to write a novel..

...with the most efficiency?

I guess there are many different ways to write a novel. This is only my third that I'm currently working on, so I don't know whether I've hit on the best method for me, or not; but I have noticed a pattern emerging.

What I do is, work out what the main characters are like, in quite a bit of detail; I know their childhood pets, first boyfriend/girlfriend, if they drink tea or coffee for breakfast, which bits of their appearance they dislike etc., and also what the book is about; the themes and outline of the plot. I make pages of notes on the characters, and jot down random ideas. I know the end of the novel, and write the key scene that occurs at or near the end.

Then I start writing. I usually know two or three scenes that I will write, and by the time I've written them I've thought up the next few. Like a walk through a dark wood with a torch. I make up other characters as I go along, and let them play off against each other. It's scary, because how do I know I won't run out of ideas?

I've tried writing scene titles on cards, doing time lines, and attempting to map out the whole structure of the book before I begin, but for me these methods didn't work. If I have a scene in my head, I need to write it down quickly before it fades, not put it to one side because my outline isn't finished yet.

How do you do it?


  1. Muddle my way through. Procrastinate. Cry. Give up. Start again.

    Any of that any help?!

  2. Nope, though it has a familiar ring...

    But you left out the mood swings - from: this one will knock the socks off the first lucky agent who gets her paws on it to: this is so embarrassingly bad even my friends won't tell me.

  3. Of course we would tell you.

    Because you would tell us.

    And that is why friends are so important.

    Besides, since we know you can write wonderful stuff.

    Because you have already done that.

    If anything is poopy, we know all it needs is a bit of attention.

  4. Thanks, Alan, for the cheering words.

  5. Mostly, I think I write by the seat of my pants. I'll have an idea of a character or characters, and a question, point of conflict, opening scene before I start. I generally jump right in and get to know the characters and what happens as I write. Then I'll plot a bit, then usually cut the beginning, and then get back on with it. Then edit and change everything round again! All good fun, hey!


  6. Yes, that sounds very much like me.

    Are you okay(ish) again now? On the road to recovery? Beaten off the lurgi?

  7. All the best writers must do it like that. ;)

    I'm much better than I was, thanks, with more than a little help from Mr Fleming Mr Florey.

    N x

  8. Ooh, I've just tagged you for a little meme.

    N X

  9. 1) What were you doing ten years' ago?

    1998: I was bending all my efforts into getting Minty into City of London School for Girls. Education in London is a cut-throat business. Takes no prisoners.

    2) What 5 things are on your to-do list today?

    Cancel my home insurance ( but they offered me more than a third off, so I’m still insured).
    Collect my hallmarking (done that!)
    Pay Goldfish bill (done that).
    Protest about outrageously large invoice for a goblet case (done that).
    Write to old friend (haven’t yet).

    You will note that gainful employment does not figure at all on this list. Oh dear.

    3) What snacks do you enjoy?

    Oaty biscuits covered in dark chocolate, nuts, pumpkin seeds, apples, Anzac biscuits. I take tea and coffee breaks seriously.

    4) What would you do with a billion dollars?

    I would buy a two bedroom, two bathroom penthouse loft in the centre of London, with roof garden and parking space for my Micra.

    Not sure how much a billion dollars is – if it’s huge, I’d buy up land like Beatrix Potter did to stop development on it. And plant lots of trees.

    5) List the places you have lived:

    London, Bournemouth, London.

    6) List the jobs you have held:
    Part time:

    Working on the end of Bournemouth pier
    Sales assistant in many shops
    Serving in a coffee bar
    Organizing free magazine distribution
    Full time:

    7) List the people you'd like to know more about:

    Alexander the Great

    (Have I missed the point?)

  10. Ooh, good B Potter idea! (I thought the same about 7 too!)

    Are you not putting this up on your blog?


  11. I try to keep the blog more or less on the subject of writing...

  12. I do it like you, Lexi -- with a torch.

    "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." -- E.L. Doctorow

    Check out:

    You are not alone... :-)

  13. Thanks, Vicki, for telling me about that fascinating article. Timothy Hallinan puts it very well.

    I've added a link on my sidebar to the Internet Writing Journal.