A Muse’s Guide: 20+ Essential Novel Writing Tips for Beginners
Sailing the journey to your first novel isn’t smooth. You’ll flip, make the wrong tack, listen to bad advice, and shed a tear or two.
Ultimately, though, you’ll reach your novel on that far-off shore.
We get it. Writing a novel is hard. It’s hard because your story matters, and it matters because readers invest their time into your narrative. So, do the hard work and land on the shore with a novel that amazes, wrenches the hearts of, and enthralls your audience.
It also matters to you for reasons only you understand, and taking on that quest is a significant challenge. The only way to that shore is the voyage you need to take by writing your novel.
Tip 0, the tip that says writing a novel matters: Go on the quest.
Chart Your Course
This group of tips will prepare your writing legs for the journey.
Tip 1: “Read, Read, Read”
This tip is a quote from William Faulkner, and it may be the most succinct.
A similar piece of advice is perhaps the most often quoted, from Stephen King: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” From his book, On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft.
To expand on this, read the books of successful authors, mostly from your chosen genre.
When you complete each book, create a synopsis and share your thoughts on platforms like Amazon. This helps you understand storytelling; engage in lively debate, listen to others’ insights, and learn different viewpoints.
Tip 2: Take Courses
Get your novel off to a flying start! Dive into courses fine-tuned to your genre, consider getting a BA, or take a spin with continuing education classes. Remember, knowing the ropes will fuel your writing adventure!
You can find writing programs on this list of online courses.
Beware of courses that offer nothing of value:
- Published authors might not excel at teaching, so look at past students’ successes.
- Steer clear of courses relying on peer reviews — novices can’t chart your journey.
Here’s a bonus education tip: take a grammar course to sharpen your writing skills.
Tip 3: Discover Books and Websites for Writers
There isn’t enough room here to describe the technical aspects of writing a novel. However, I can point you to books and websites about writing that outline some formulas and structures.
These first books are packed with insights and advice that can help beginner writers through some rough waters:
Here is a list of websites that will help you through your novel-writing venture.
Although these websites offer free resources, some may also offer paid services.
Tip 4: Make Writing Your Job
For successful writers, writing is a job and they set aside time to write, one hour or four hours; the schedule is always the same.
They have a place to pen their stories such as a writing desk in the corner of a room, an entire room, or the local library. Keep it consistent and keep that space for writing and nothing else.
Tip 5: Find the Tools You Need
There are many novel writing software tools that help novelists, but you can use simple note-taking software or even pen and paper. In my experience, the question, “what are the best tools for writing,” has one answer:
Use the tools you are comfortable using.
Tip 6: Stay Organized
Whatever tool you use, make sure you can find the files you need, whether they be on a hard drive, in the cloud, or paper files in your office. You never know when you’ll need to find the name of that shopkeeper from chapter who-knows-what.
Obviously, you need to write your novel. You can spend the rest of your life exploring the world you created and developing characters, but the story needs to be written. The following tips will help you actually put words on paper.
Tip 7: Outline Your Novel
An outline is your narrative map. Some set out on a well-plotted route while others draw their map as they meander. Then there are those who outline their journey after its first draft, but no matter how you sway, there’s no right or wrong here, only what works best for you.
Find some outlining techniques in this list of books:
Tip 8: Create a Synopsis
A synopsis is the tale of the journey you aim to undertake. It encapsulates the main plot points, character arcs, and the resolution, giving an overview of your novel. It offers a snapshot of your story’s path, helping you and potential readers to understand your narrative voyage.
Tip 9: Be Wary of These Narrative Whirlpools
Novelists should avoid on-the-nose dialogue, info dumps, inconsistent characters, or unmotivated plot twists. These can disengage your readers, pulling them out of the journey you’re crafting.
Tip 10: Write Your First Draft to the End
As you write, you might be tempted to linger at viewpoints or turn back when the path gets steep, but remember, your reward is waiting. Writing the journey from beginning to end, without turning back, gives you a complete picture of your expedition, one that will guide you in your revisions.
Your first draft is the raw account brimming with authenticity. It’s where you’re free to write the story to yourself. Enjoy this unhindered exploration; revisions can wait.
This is when you fall in love with your book; it’s a romance that fuels your creativity, a passion that spills onto the pages of your narrative.
Tip 11: Be a Good Writer and a Better Editor
The real craft lies in editing because your first draft of the journey will be riddled with tangents and detours. Rewriting, refining, and polishing your story turns your wild expedition into an engaging narrative journey.
You’ll need to make multiple passes and revisit parts of your novel during the editing phase.
With each pass, you focus on a different aspect–plot consistency, character arcs, dialogue, language, pacing, or grammar. Each edit hardens the path of your narrative, each trip across the pages makes your story stronger, clearer, and more engaging.
An added benefit? In the end, your fiction writing style will emerge, and to see that is exciting!
Tip 12: Create Arcs that Break Your Characters
Characters bring your narrative to life, so make them as vibrant and layered as the world they traverse. Craft compelling characters that transform as they navigate their world, capturing readers’ hearts and minds.
No exploration is without challenges, so be the challenger and put treacherous mountains and wild rivers in your characters’ paths. These obstacles–external conflicts or inner demons–forge your characters, deepen their resolve, and intensify their journey.
Don’t hold back when describing your character’s struggles.
Tip 12: Create Flawed Heroes and Strong Villains
Well-rounded characters are a mix of strengths and weaknesses. Flawed heroes are relatable, their struggles echo our own, while villains with redeeming qualities add complexity and intrigue to the story.
Tip 13: Create Antagonists that Aren’t Characters
A villain of your narrative could be a hostile environment, a looming disaster, societal norms, or an internal conflict; whatever the antagonist is, it is the force opposing your hero’s progress. Identifying this antagonist, in whatever form it takes, helps to crystallize your novel’s conflict.
Tip 14: Say, Don’t Tell. Imply, and Don’t Give Everything Away
Show readers the depth of the wave, don’t just tell them it was high. Evoke the arduous crossing instead of plainly stating it was hard. This approach immerses your audience, letting them live the journey rather than just hear about it.
Keep some paths hidden and let your readers discover some surprises on their own.
Tip 15: Use Perspectives that Matter
Write from the third person perspective, but only follow one character at a time. The reader sees and hears only what that character perceives, and no character perceives everything. You can follow the same person for the whole journey, or switch perspectives strategically to provide a lens for the reader to understand the landscape.
Tip 16: Engage the Reader with Pacing
The rhythm of your journey keeps your readers engaged. Intersperse high-intensity scenes with moments of respite. Fast-forward through mundane stretches but slow down when the view is worthwhile; a well-paced journey maintains the thrill of exploration.
Tip 17: Use Literary Devices
Literary devices are your narrative toolkits: Metaphors deepen meaning, foreshadowing builds suspense, irony adds complexity, and symbolism makes the theme throb. These tools can transform your story, turning a trip into a magical journey.
Tip 18: Take Creative Breaks
Creative breaks are about gaining new perspectives and replenishing your creative reservoir.
Even Stephen King knew the value of creative breaks. He formed the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band composed of fellow authors, created for some much-needed respite.
So, remember the literary club, the music band, and the side-projects. Embrace the diversion; you’re not abandoning your journey, you’re simply catching your breath. And who knows, these detours might inspire you.
Market Your Book
You must learn the art of marketing your book.
Sharing your voyage garners readership and fuels your creative engine.
If you are not a marketer, then you need to approach this topic with diligence.
Marketing is this:
- Understanding the literary market,
- Knowing your audience, and
- Identifying the right platforms for promotion.
Tip 19: Tell the World You’re Crafting a Novel
This creates a buzz around your upcoming book and provides motivation to complete your journey. The anticipation of your audience nudges you forward when the path gets tough.
Share snippets of your tale on social media platforms and show your writing buddies; their feedback is valuable and so is their word-of-mouth promotion. Inform your professors or mentors; their networks and influence can boost your novel’s visibility.
Marketing your novel is part of the expedition. It creates a community of readers eager to join you in your journey and celebrate with you at your destination. There’s nothing wrong with feeling pressure to deliver; it drives you forward.
Isn’t getting published why you are doing this?
Tip 20: Polish your Manuscript and Find a Literary Agent
According to Mary Adkins of The Book Incubator, agents are valuable allies in your quest for publication.
To find an agent, you need to polish your manuscript first. Make sure it shines. Never release an unpolished draft. It must withstand scrutiny and be ready to capture the hearts of readers.
Tip 21: Stand Firm Against the Tide of Rejections
Rejections threaten to capsize your resolve, so nail every rejection letter into your wall like a victory flag. They are badges of your endurance. Keep count and rejoice! Each brings you closer to an offer.
Casting Off on the Quest Towards Your Novel
Writing a novel is an expedition laden with detours and skirmishes with self-doubt. Each struggle, each rejection letter, each line drafted and redrafted, hones your skills as a storyteller.
First, engage with the literary world — read, review, and converse about books in your chosen genre. Refine your writing through education to understand the nuances of storytelling.
Then tune into your muse and channel an outline, then craft and re-craft your narrative until your story takes form.
Finally, polish your manuscript and find an agent. Weather the storm of rejections, and remember each one is a step closer to you as a published novelist.
Take these words to heart and write with conviction. Your triumph as a novelist isn’t a far-off dream — it’s the destination of this epic journey you’ve embarked on. Steer your ship forward, for your novel is waiting at the end of this quest!