There are so many writing tips out there, and it’s impossible to pay heed to them all. How are you supposed to write a novel in silence while listening to relaxing music? Or in a well-lit room beneath the shade of a tree? Or sitting comfortably and choreographing a contortion routine?
My point is, there are so many tried and tested methods out there that won’t work for you; but don’t fret. No two writers are the same, and while I personally prefer the former in each of the conundrums posted above, Tom down the road might get the most from his pen practicing yoga in a field, the dulcet tones of Michael Bublé pouring into his ears from a personal radio.
And finding the ideal setting is relatively easy in comparison to what comes next; writing. Again, the advice is vast and varying, and if you scour through it all for those golden nuggets that are going to help in your quest, you might just lose impetus, and the story that has been rattling around your head may never be told. I’d like to say that what I offer here are the cheat notes, but no doubt my advice will be of no use at all to some. But for those that it will help – my fellow horror writers, I give you my five top tips for writing a novel.
- Believe it.
Don’t just believe in it, but believe the story itself. Even if you’re writing about an underwater zombie apocalypse on a far-off planet, four thousand years in the future. Recount those events like you’re certain they’ve happened, or in this case will happen; otherwise, the reader might not buy into either, and they’ll never see it through to the end. Moreover, maybe you won’t see it through to the end. Write something that you as a reader would like to read. If you’d rather see a story about a bloodthirsty vampire who targets funerals because he can’t bring himself to kill, write that instead. And if you do, I expect to at least have a character named after me.
- You don’t have to write chronologically.
Of course, everyone who picks up your work is going to read it in order from the beginning, hopefully right through to the very end, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some days, you’re going to find yourself in the frame of mind to write later sections, so write them. You can connect all the dots another day; don’t waste time not writing if the next chronological sequence isn’t coming easy. Who cares if you write Uncle Jeff’s wake before you’ve even killed him off? One thing remains the same: Uncle Jeff still dies.
- Know your characters.
Don’t just give them a name and a vague description; know them like you know yourself. What are their favourite colours? What were their childhood aspirations? Do they drink? Do they smoke? You don’t want them to mention in passing that they’re not a fan of Mexican cuisine, only to dive head first into a plate of quesadillas at Uncle Jeff’s wake. Who even serves quesadillas at a wake? Maybe you should give your caterer a profile, too.
- Write everything.
And I mean everything. That chapter where Colin goes to buy a new car. Why is Dave the salesman so angry? Who is he on the phone to when he disappears into his office to fetch the keys, while we’re left out in the showroom with Colin, admiring his reflection in the paintwork of a convertible? What was his day like up to this point? No one knows for sure. But you should. So write it. These are scenes that will probably never see the light of day, but even if they only exist physically as hastily scribbled bullet points on the back of a paper napkin, they’ll make writing that exchange with Colin a breeze. Having it written down makes it easier to refer to at a later date, and may even inspire you to write things into the story that you hadn’t considered before. Maybe Dave the salesman is angry because his own car was stolen. Maybe the phone call was from his panicked son, confessing to stealing the car and drunkenly hitting a pedestrian. Maybe Dave is connected to Uncle Jeff’s death… Which brings me on to my final point.
- Don’t force the writing down a path – let it take its course.
Knowing exactly which direction the story is going before you sit down to write is fantastic – but chances are your reader will know it too, so never ignore those forks in the road when they present themselves if you’re hoping to pull off a major plot twist. Surprising yourself as the writer is even greater than being surprised as a reader; if you come to a stage in your story where you suddenly realise that everything up to this point could actually be leading down a completely different route and you never saw it coming until now, then consider making that detour, because your reader won’t be suspecting it either. What do you mean Jeff isn’t dead? Forcing the writing can leave you at a dead-end; allowing it to dictate the journey will uncover a world of open roads.
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D.M. Woon is the author of Tales of The Bastard Drunk, a novel recently published by Mystery and Horror, LLC.
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Two travellers. One haunted town. A secluded pub. A bastard drunk.
“Buy The Bastard a brandy, an’ he might jus’ tell you a tale ‘bout this town…”
Kramusville is a town with a long and bloody history. When Paul and Fitz arrive on foot, desperate for shelter, they only find one place that appears to be open – The Finger Inn. There’s a train in the morning, but during the long night they hear the Tales of The Bastard Drunk. Tales filled with depravity and gore, each worse than the one before. They pray for the dawn to come, so they can leave – but will Kramusville let them go?
A novel that unveils the most terrible of secrets, whilst questioning the art of storytelling itself. Be warned: not a book for delicate sensibilities.
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- Taking Submissions: “Deep Underground” Novellas - September 18, 2019
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