From thought to release: writing a novel, part 1

Part 1: Ideas, prerequisites and preconceptions

A few years ago I had the embryo of an idea that refused to get out of my head. The more I thought about it the worse it got until the embryo stared to develop into a life of its own, expanding way beyond my initial concept. New characters then started to add themselves to the cast, shaping the story and direction further by their thoughts and actions.

After a while I realised that the only way to remove the whole thing from my brain was to write it down, so after cutting my teeth on a short story I decided to take the plunge and write an entire novel, learning as I went. Bit of a silly plan in retrospect but hey here we are.

What to write about.

For potential authors writing mainly for fun, my advice would be to write about what interests you rather than what you think will sell. From initial planning to polishing the final draft, writing my novel took about two years of evenings and bits of weekends, so if you’re not excited about your story it’s going to become a slog really quickly. Depending on real life pressures it might take much longer, so if you have that 10-volume Game of Thrones-style epic in your head be prepared for the long haul.

As for where to get inspiration from, I have no idea sorry! Some people like small personal dramas, others go for sweeping space epics. My only advice in this would be to make your horizons as broad as possible. I watch a lot of films and genre TV shows, read the news daily and play a lot of computer games. Any of the above can be great sources for firing up the imagination and sparking ideas.

Research.

Tricky one this. If you want to write in a particular genre (eg vampires or gothic fiction) it may seem like a good idea to read as much as you can from that area to see how other people approach it. The main downside is that you can then bias yourself, worrying that that great idea you had is too similar to book_a or that scene was close to that bit in book_b and then you’ve stopped before you’ve even started. There are millions of stories out there and the odds of you making something truly original are pretty slim, so as long as you’re not obviously plagiarising something verbatim  (hey I have this great idea about a boy who finds he’s a wizard and goes to a magic school!) you should be fine. Don’t worry, if it’s too close to something else then someone on the internet will be sure to point it out!

OMG WR1Tin lolz; your having a affect their two!

I’m a scientist by trade and a big part of my job involves writing very detailed and very dry technical documents which are then hammered by other people and peer-reviewed to an inch of their lives. This did give me somewhat of a head start when it came to writing as I already had a fairly good grasp of grammar and spelling.

The most important thing to remember is that if you are expecting people to pay to read your work, they won’t care if you’re a professional, amateur, young, old, male or female. They will care about good characters and plot, but even more importantly that they aren’t pulled out of the story every other paragraph by bad spelling and grammar. So unless you are willing to pay someone a lot of money to edit and correct things for you, a basic grounding in whatever language you write in would be a good idea. There are plenty of websites dedicated to this (e.g. Grammar.com to name but one from many) and they’re only an internet search and mouse-click away.

Need a grammar refresh? Try this!

Fame! I’m gonna live forever!

I read somewhere that Amazon publishes about half a million books per year. How many famous self-published authors can you name? Exactly. That’s not to say you won’t get that call from a major publishing house or that film deal you always wanted, but the chances are slim. But hey who cares?! We can all dream, and as long as you go into it for the pleasure of writing and sharing your work rather than fame, then if it doesn’t happen it was still worth the effort.

Many people who start writing a novel probably never finish it, so if you get to the end of the process then congratulations, you’ve made it further than most!

Coming up in Part 2 – Planning your story (or not, as the case may be).

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