My newest writing guide is out! This project began when I wrote a blog post about how to write a novel–or, at least I write writing a post, but I quickly just how much I had to say on the topic. It turned into a 100 page guide on the entire process. Take a look at the table of contents below!
(More info on all my books for authors under Authorpreneur Press)
The “Quick Start Guide” to outlining and writing your novel!
Helpful exercises with each step.
Tips for beginnings and more advanced writers.
Have you ever wondered how to write a novel? Have you started and got frustrated? Or have you written a few novels but still want to streamline your process and learn more about structure, plot, characters, setting, and putting it all together? Do you struggle with outlining? 10 Easy Steps to Write Your Novel covers developing ideas, conflict, characters, setting, big plot points, outlining, the writing process, writing scenes, and editing and revising.
Table of Contents:
- Step 1: Develop your Idea
- What about a title?
- Developing “Sparks”
- Questions to Consider
- A Solid Foundation
- Developing Your Idea Exercises
- Step 2: Develop Your Conflict
- Conflict Exercises
- Step 3: Add Your Characters
- Play Around with Character
- Character Exercises
- Define Your Characters
- More Character Exercises
- Step 4: Define Your Setting
- Using Setting to Shape Story
- Setting Exercises
- Step 5: Outline your Big Plot Points
- My Novel Structure
- Expanding the 7 Plot Points
- Step 6: Plan Act I to the Door of No Return
- What about Prologues?
- That Opening Line
- Genre Beginnings
- “The Beginning” Exercises
- The Door of No Return
- Step 7: Plan Act II to the Midpoint
- Act II Exercise
- Low and High Points
- Step 8: Act III: Plan the Middle to the End
- Taking Action
- Dark Moment
- Ending Exercises
- The Last Line
- Step 9: Writing
- Writing Scenes
- Should you write every day?
- Should you set a daily word count goal?
- Should you write in order?
- Should you edit and revise during the first draft?
- Staying in the flow
- Keeping up your momentum
- Celebrate your progress
- Step 10: Re-writing & Editing
- When should you share your work?
- Critique Groups?
- Start with the big issues
- Checking Smaller Elements
- Should you have a theme?
- When is your novel finished?
So whenever I’m working on a novel, the characters basically hang out in my head. I see them going about their day and think about how they think, talk, feel and dream. I’ll get scene ideas throughout the day or even think about how they’d react to what’s going on in my life. That has taken on a life of its own as I work on In My Dreams… I’m starting to feel like Avery in the first book! The reason is both Marcus and Avery feel so real to me. I can see the way Marcus’s eyes light up and how his face changes when he laughs good and hard, and I hear his comments. I’ll be picturing something for the story and hear him say, “That girly? Really? Dude, you’re turning me into a girl.” Or, “You think I’d hold back like that? When did my mouth get so PG?”
And I imagine Avery going through my crap with me – I’m pouring a lot of my emotions into her right now. My life took some crazy turns and I’m starting over in many ways, and she’s like a friend going through the same thing. When my emotions try to eat me alive, she’s there feeling it too. She’s gotta figure out who she is even while she cares about other people so much; it’s hard to see where the lines are. She’s surprised sometimes as she thinks, “Holy shit, I can do this.” But it’s still hard for her to own that.
So this is going to be one interesting sequel – I want it to be as raw and intense as the first one, or maybe even more so. There’s a crazy wild amount of possibilities too, now that Marcus is back in his body and they both have to figure out their relationship and their separate lives again. Of course they don’t want to be separate. Can you imagine having someone in your heart and mind 24-7 and then you can’t hear them anymore? It’s like falling off a cliff in the dark. That twirling free fall is a good metaphor for the emotions pouring out of them and into the story.
And this story isn’t about just them. We have all these other threads to pick up with Kristina, Kyle, Nash and Jazz. And some weird things happened when those guys started talking, and now some of them have their own chapters and are feeling certain things for each other… Yeah, a big hint there, but I don’t want to give away too much just yet!
I haven’t wrote flash fiction in forever. The urge hit tonight, and I decided to play around with words and also write something without real dialogue. I do bend that rule a bit here. And also, don’t worry because I also wrote some on In my Dreams.
When bullets fly
She didn’t see the bullet coming, but even if she had she wouldn’t have moved out of the way. She’d been waiting on that bullet for years.
As she went out to the car that morning, the lightning in the steel sky might have appeared as a sign to the superstitious, which she was. But she felt a strange lift in her chest and smiled. It wasn’t a happy or good smile. More like grinning as you go down in flames. You know that saying that lightning only strikes once? That’s only partly true. It strikes once with the really good stuff, but it hits the shit out of you with the bad.
As she watched the electricity branch across the sky at the stop of 23rd and Polk, a Chevy truck slammed into her rear bumper. After the jolt, she pushed open her door and rose shakily from the driver’s seat to address the other driver…a six foot five construction worker with a buzz cut who reeked of cigarette smoke. Of course he didn’t have insurance or the patience to stay and discuss it.
So maybe the lightning was a sign? Maybe she needed to go home and go back to bed. Some days just aren’t made for getting ahead.
But she didn’t.
She instead went to work to be greeted by the boss by the front door. Oddly, he wore a tie, and escorted her to his office to let her go.
Home and bed would have been the right course of action after that, except that the door was open at Johnnie’s Bar. Johnnie himself was inside finishing a meeting when she walked in. Normally they’d smile at each other. Today he took a look at her and poured a shot of bourbon. Luckily she downed it before the two men walked in shouting. And maybe more luckily, she downed Johnnie’s just as the bullets flew.
It was the strangest sensation past her ear. The spot of heat. The rush of wind. The following caress. And then the sound. The other sounds were far away, down a canyon as she stood still, glass in hand, turned toward the door and staring blankly. Both men wore black leather jackets. One tall, skinny and bald. The other shorter, round and lost in a hairy goatee. Silence rang loudly. Questions floated in the smoke. Mainly, why didn’t she move? They glanced at each other and backed up out the door. Seconds later, Johnnie peeked up from behind the bar. Jesus. What was she doing standing there? Was she hit?
When she finally did turn toward him, the light from the still open door illuminated a puff of hair floating like dust.
Johnnie kept those strands for good luck. She’s not sure if she’d call it luck, but she learned you can’t back down when the bullets fly.
They both noticed a woman with long, dark hair and an inviting smile, so they sat at the bar, four stools away from her. She glanced over at their entrance before turning back to her conversation with her friends. Sentence told Story, “Watch this. I’m going to wiggle my perfect construction at her. She won’t be able to resist!”
Story watched as Sentence tried to catch the woman’s eye. The woman and her friends gave Sentence a few polite glances, but they weren’t interested.
When Story had enough, he announced, “My turn!” He walked around Sentence to sit closer to the woman and gave her a nod and a wink. The woman immediately moved down the bar three seats to talk to Story.
“Your characters are amazing! How did you come up with this idea, anyway?” She leaned closer and tilted her head back to tease him with a half smile. “And the twist at the end! I didn’t see that coming, but then it made perfect sense. Please tell me there’s a sequel. Does Jake ever win Kathryn over, and does his father ever forgive him? Is there another mystery to solve?”
Story motioned for another round of drinks and murmured, “I’ll tell you everything if you have a few hours…”
Sentence sulked in his seat. What had he done wrong?
“Sentence” missed the simple fact that readers don’t go into bookstores and online retailers to buy groups of sentences. There aren’t any reviews that read, “This book is full of perfect sentences! Check out the metaphor on page 82. The sentences were so wonderful that I forgot about the story and highlighted the commas and semicolons. This author knows how to vary sentence length! Wonderful!”
Readers often say a novel is well written, and they might mention the imagery or fresh use of language, but that alone won’t win readers. Personally, I don’t want to throw a reader out of the story with a impressive sentence. I want the plot and characters to pull the reader in so she’ll keep reading past her bedtime. Of course, I don’t want poor writing to distract the reader either, but I know the point of the novel is the story.
As an artist, do you want others to see the picture you’re painting or the brushstrokes?
Do you need to write well on a sentence level to write good stories? Yes, of course! But are the sentences more important than the story you’re telling? Not in my opinion. Aren’t authors selling stories, not sentences?
Writing well is very important. I don’t mean to argue that point, but it really bugs me when I hear someone put down a mega bestselling author for their writing. It’s usually on a sentence level: “Look at all the clichés, passive voice, and simple sentences! A fifth grader could write better.” It could be true–the given book might very well be full of sentences that could be written better. Maybe their modifiers don’t line up. Maybe they like using clichés as shortcuts in certain places. Maybe they choose choppy or run on sentences over proper grammar to show the character’s thoughts and emotions. But, if the writing really is that poor, then the author must be doing something else right. And that “something else” really sells copies. Millions of readers are buying those books. Despite what people say, you can’t sell a book month after month on marketing alone. If it’s not a good story, people complain. They won’t tell other people about the book.
Readers want an experience away from their life. They want to get sucked into a great story that makes them forget everything else for a few hours. They want to connect with the character and see the world differently. They want to experience a great story. They want to feel.
So, yes, please learn to write sentences well and play with language. Study English, spelling, and grammar. Create fresh images and strive to be original. Learn how to write well so readers can understand what you’re saying. And if you want to sell that writing, remember your job is to tell a damn good story.
So, on the writing front, I edited several novels over the last few months for other authors. It’s been a hugely fun process, and I got to work in romance, fantasy, historical, and crime fiction. I’ve been editing for ten years, and the last few years I’ve seen a dramatic increase in quality in terms of writing and the stories I’m seeing. I think it’s due to the Indie movement and all the content so readily available. There’s books, articles, blogs and Facebook groups that help writers learn about writing and the publishing process. So, it’s lots of fun all around!
And yes, I’m working on my own novels too. I’m working to finish the 4th novella in the Stranger series. It’ll be the final one and complete the story, although it opens the door for a new series if I want to continue it. Here’s the cover for the 4th book:
(I don’t want to give the story away yet, especially if people didn’t read the first three.)
I’ll publish this one and then a full novel version with all four novellas.
I also started another story inspired by a video on Facebook. You might have seen the clip of a girl at a cam when the kiss cam zooms in on her and her boyfriend. The guy ignore the kiss cam but a mascot runs over and carries her off. I love that video! And I wanted to start a story with that, so I did. It might be a novella – I’m not sure at this point. I’m just having fun with it and writing away. Here’s the cover. What do you think???
This story is lighthearted and fun with a big dose of humor.
The Trail Blazer’s mascot sweeps Abby off her feet, literally, but she doesn’t get his name. Luckily he happens to know she writes the “Honest Abby” column in a local paper. The mascot is a fun loving, hot guy, but he also has a sick father and a load of responsibilities that lead to a little complication.
Why start from scratch and reinvent storytelling? Instead, use a 7 point plot outline developed from wildly successful novels.
“Blockbuster Books, Broken Down” is a workbook style guide that reveals the structure and elements in huge bestsellers of the last fifteen years, many of which became movies. By breaking down these books, we can see how successful authors are breaking out by satisfying readers’ needs.
Part 1 deconstructs today’s bestsellers and offers insights and keys to blockbusters and the Blockbuster Novel Map.
Part 2 guides you in creating a breakout idea and developing that into a solid plot with a novel map. Build from the ground up with 7 points to ensure your plot will connect with readers.
Buy the workbook and you can get the Kindle book free through Kindle Matchbook.
Covers these books and more:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Twilight and The Host by Stephenie Myer
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Maze Runner by James Dashner
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Notebook and Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Part 1: Deconstructing Bestsellers
Does Genre Matter?
Hook, High Concept, & HUGE Stakes
What’s Different About Today’s Blockbusters
The Blockbuster Novel Map
The 7 Point Outline with 3 Act Structure
The Key to Blockbusters
Part 2: Building Your Bestseller
First, Know Thyself
Your Big Idea
The Breakout Idea Checklist
From Idea to Plot
Which Came First: plot or character?
Writing Your Novel
Ways to Improve Your Writing
Make Any Story BIGGER
Writer’s Block: specific cases and how to fix them
Your Novel Map
Novel Map Worksheet
From Novel Map to Outline
Your Setting/ World
Your Setting Notes
*This is a hands-on fiction workshop packed with insights, exercises, and worksheets to quickly teach you breakout plotting and novel development.
Amazon – Kindle ebook and print workbook available
So, it was another crazy year in publishing.Trade book prices came down, overall book quality (Indie and trade) went up in my opinion due to increased competition, and the number of books on the market skyrocketed. Of course, that’s been a trend over the last few years. Kindle Unlimited rolled out in the US and then in countries all over the world, drastically cutting book sales for many authors. I think a few have profited, but I’ve seen a majority of authors saying their sales (including borrows) and income doing a nosedive.Yeah, publishing continues to change, and the playing field has leveled out once again, where Indies no longer have an advantage with lower prices and faster releases.
All of the above is good for readers. I’ll admit I’m happy I can get books from my favorite authors for lower prices. And, the truth is, being an author isn’t like other jobs. You don’t put in the time and schooling and then know you have a career path with steadily increasing pay. Being an artist of any kind has challenges. Authors are creatives and business people, and our books have to compete with Facebook, TV, free content, and all the other books out there. In essence, if you’re going to be an author, you have to do it because you love it.
What about me? I’ve been writing away as usual. I released three full novels in 2014:
Costa Rica, In A Field of Oranges, and It’s All In My Head
And I recently released the first novella in a new romantic thriller series, Stranger in my Bed. This first novella doesn’t have so much of the romantic element in it–I’d even call it a psychological thriller.
2014 was a really great writing year for me. I pushed myself to offer something really different with each book. I took It’s All In My Head to a week long, intensive writing workshop, and it eventually became my longest work to date, and my first novel in 1st person. I just LOVE that story and the characters. Some books are harder to write, and that one had challenges, but I still smile when I think about the writing process, and remember it like a life-changing vacation.
I took the lessons learned while writing that novel and started my new series. There’s a lot of mystery in Stranger in my Bed. It’s great fun to write! I also wanted to try a different format, so I’m using a TV episode format, where I’m going to release novellas hopefully once every month. The entire story is much bigger than my usual novel length, too, so this format works well. I really like having smaller conflicts in each novella that will also build the overall problem. In the end, I’ll probably release a box set of the entire story.
I’m also finishing a nonfiction project–my first book about novel writing. I’ve held off on offering writing advice because there’s an abundance of that there. But I haven’t seen one that covered my content. I took my notes on bestsellers and looked at lists of books that were turned into movies, and something jumped out at me. It was one of those amazing moments when a light bulb turned on and I literally stood up in amazement. This happens when I see something about my writing or writing in general, but I’ve never felt my new insight was a really new insight for writers in general. This time I thought, wow, I need to share this! So I am.
The guide is actually about plotting, creating a blockbuster plot, and making any story bigger. I break down the plot of mega bestsellers to form a simple novel map that anyone can use to plan their novel with critical points that set stories apart.
Blockbuster Books, Broken Down is up for pre-order in Kindle and will release on January 30, 2015. There’s a workbook for the print version, and I hope to release that in January.
Well, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and New Year– I’m celebrating Christmas vacation with two weeks of sleeping in!
Nanowrimo what? National Novel Writing Month, aka the frenzie in November every year in the writing world. Did you join in? I’ve never participated in Nanowrimo because the timing has never worked out. I haven’t been at the starting point for a novel before November, and I have a pretty set schedule (or rather habit) of writing a novel in three months. I tend to write three novels a year plus a novella or other project, and this year I added in translations. I’m working with translators, but I need to answer questions quite often. So I’ve never felt compelled to time a project with nanowrimo, but sometimes I’ve wished I could.
However, it hit me just the other day that I started and finished a novella this month, and was able to send it to three beta readers within the 30 day period. I have a completed and polished novella, blurb, cover and even the series planned out.
I’ve read a few articles about nanowrimo rebels that make up their own guidelines, so I guess I can say I’ve done that now! My project isn’t a 50,000 word rough draft, but I think I’m happier with having something competed and ready to upload to Kindle. I already published three full length novels, and I had a blast working with this shorter format. I’m picturing my new series much like a television show with episodes: each novella has its own story questions, conflict and arc, and there’s a bigger story at play as well.
Writing a novel is a long journey. Writing a novella is like a fun adventure, with quicker pay offs, but a challenge of telling a full story in one third of the length. I was able to send it out for feedback and get comments within a few days. It showed me the weak points. I revised, added content, and then went through the entire novella several times to work on different aspects. I can perfect every scene and each element of storytelling, all within a month’s time. I hope to publish a new novella about once a month, and I plan share more about this adventure along the way.
Congrats to all the Nanowrimo participants! Even if you didn’t end up with 50k words, it’s quite an undertaking, and you still have a great chunk of material to work with. (And I think that’s the point.) Hope it was fun as well.🙂
Do you like behind-the-scenes stories that show you how a movie or book came about? I love learning what inspired a great story. The other day I was skimming through my journal and noticed something new about how I got the idea for It’s All In My Head. On February 6th, my husband and I planned to drive to Eugene to watch Jerry Seinfeld. We were super excited, to put it mildly. Then… a giant snowstorm hit and buried Eugene in snow and ice. It was fifty degrees here, an hour and a half south of Eugene, so it was extra frustrating. The show wasn’t cancelled, either, so we emailed our tickets to someone who could use them. That night, we watched the start of the winter Olympics instead. I got hooked on watching the snowboarders and their tricks in the halfpipe, flying twenty feet up into the air to flip upside down. It’s amazing what they can do. The following Monday, I was driving on our country highway and looking the pretty green hills here when a book idea hit me. I wrote 10,000 words in a week.
So if I got to see Jerry Seinfeld, I might not have watched the Olympics and gotten that idea. Funny, huh?
The book flowed at an amazing rate–the idea took over my life the way Marcus took over Avery’s!
By the way, here’s the inspiration for Marcus, a real snowboarder who competed in the Olympics, Sage Kotsenbrug. He thought he was after a gold medal… and didn’t realize he was inspiring a book! If you’re not familiar with him, Wikipedia says, “He won the first ever Olympic gold medal in men’s snowboard slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russa, and became the first gold medalist at these Olympics.”
This is a photo I snagged from his FB to help me write my novel.
The character of Marcus is fictional, of course, with his own quirks and beliefs. I was mostly inspired by Sage Kotsenburg’s attitude, and then his determination. I was surprised when I listened to all of the snowboarders talk–they were competing in a highly competitive, international stage, but many were funny, supporting each other, and enjoying themselves. Like, really enjoying themselves and the love of what they could do on their board. That’s what I wanted to capture in my character, Marcus.
I’m not sure where the story idea really came from–it just hit me, what if some normal girl had the voice of one of those guy’s in her head all of a sudden?
If you’re wondering about Avery, I had a picture of her in my mind and happened to come across a picture in Glamour magazine that matched what I envisioned. So I clipped this and kept it in my inspiration folder.
The story developed into all kinds of layers. Avery had a crush who was starting to take notice. She also had some pain in her past, ambition and plans, and a weird situation with her friends: her bestie is with her ex, and they all hang out together.
I took the manuscript through a week-long workshop and found even more emotional depth and complications, so by the end of the writing process, I had my longest and most complicated book. It’s about two opposite people thrown together who learn to see the beauty in each other, all while Marcus is a voice. I called it an inside-out love story, because yes, it’s very romantic and (I hope) surprising.
Here’s the blurb for the story that resulted in all of this:
He’s taking over her life, but is he even real?
Avery Waldorf wakes up from a concussion to find a voice inside her head—an adventurous male voice belonging to Marcus, who doesn’t know where he came from, but has an opinion on everything about her life. She just wants to work on her screenplay, go to her writing classes and flirt with the guy of her dreams, Nash, who is finally noticing her.
Marcus wants to get up at dawn, run, snowboard, and basically take over her life, and even her body at times. He thinks she’s freaking hot and does not like Nash touching her. Marcus may be smart, talented at snowboarding, drawing and playing the guitar, but he’s not real! When she needs help, she has to call Nash.
She can’t tell anyone about Marcus without sounding like she’s crazy. Meanwhile Marcus doesn’t know where he’ll go if he leaves her mind. Maybe she is losing it…
* * *
Why am I running a special and giving away copies? Because November is my birthday month🙂 and I want to share this awesome story with you.