Tag Archives: the unfinished novel

Write the Entire Book #amwriting

The end is nigh! NaNoWriMo 2019 is nearly over. Many books have been written, and many more are halfway done even though they have crossed the 50,000 word mark.

The truth is, ten times as many books were begun as made it to the 50,000 word mark. The reality sets in within the first week. Last year 70 writers in our region never got more than 5,000 words written.

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. But sometimes, the first lines are all an author has.

I know someone who began writing a novel they were exceedingly passionate about several years ago. But the first lines, introducing the characters, and the first few chapters were all that was ever written.

Yet the author of those few chapters speaks of their barely-begun book with enthusiasm as if they could pick it up and finish it any moment. When they talk about this book, it sounds so interesting; something I would love to read.

I confess I’ve become a little cynical when they talk about their plot and characters because I fear that talk is all that will ever happen. They have the entire book locked in their heads, and no one else will ever read it.

They have been stopped at the end of chapter three for five years. If they haven’t developed the discipline to dedicate an hour a day to writing by now, it’s very likely their book will never be completed.

Why does their book languish unwritten? Drama in their lives keeps them too busy to write. Once in a great while, when they’re bored and can’t find a book they want to read, they will open the file and read it. They will fall back in love with the words they have already written and talk about how they’re going to sit down and finish it someday.

But that won’t happen unless they make the time to do it.

We all have drama in our lives. For me, writing keeps the drama at arm’s length.

Participating in NaNoWriMo teaches authors discipline. You learn to write the entire book before you begin editing.

In your first draft, I recommend that you don’t spend too much time obsessing about the small things and the finer details as these will derail your work. You will never get past the first chapter if all you can focus on is writing a brilliant opener.

NaNoWriMo gives us the discipline to write the entire story as quickly as we can, at least 1,667 words a day. Once you have the entire structure of the novel laid down on paper, you won’t be left wondering where to go next, writing and rewriting the same first chapter.

When the entire story has been written, that is the time to worry about prose and phrasing. The second draft is when we write the words we would want to read.  

The second draft is when you should obsess about the opening line and first paragraphs.

If you are serious about writing, it’s necessary to read, to see how other authors begin and complete their work. It is good to read works published in your chosen genre, but to become an educated reader/author, you should look outside your favorite genre. You might find books that surprise you. You will be amazed at how much some of what you read in these new genres resonates with you even if you didn’t like the book.

This education doesn’t have to be expensive. Don’t spend your precious book purchasing funds on books you believe you won’t enjoy. Do a little advance research via the internet and then borrow the books from the library.

Published authors, whether Indie or traditionally published, have finished their work. Maybe they didn’t do as great a job as some people think they could have done, but they did finish the job.

Grand ideas about what you intend to write mean nothing if you don’t finish the job.

Do finish writing the story before you begin rewriting the first chapter.

If all you have ever written is the first chapter…over…and over…and over…, perhaps you need to set that idea aside. It may be that, at this point in your life, writing isn’t your passion, but reading is.

And without readers, there would be no need for authors.

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The Stranded Novel #amwriting

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. For that reason, first lines and the opening chapters frequently become all that is ever written of a would-be author’s novel. Yet the authors of those few chapters have the entire book locked in their head.

Participating in NaNoWriMo teaches authors to write the entire book before they begin editing.

In your first draft, DON’T OBSESS over the small things and the finer details as these will derail your work. You will never get past the first chapter if all you can focus on is writing a brilliant opener. Write the entire story as quickly as you can, let it sit for a month or two while you do something completely different, THEN come back to it and focus on shaping the prose. Once you have the entire structure of the novel laid down on paper, you won’t be left wondering where to go next, writing and rewriting the same first chapter.

So, let’s assume the rough draft has been completed, and you are pleased with the way it ends. But you are looking at your early chapters, and they feel lackluster. Now is the time to shape the words, to write them so they are the words you would want to read if you were looking for a book to purchase.  The second draft is when you should obsess about your first lines.

One of the best first lines ever: George Eliot’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes one want to know Miss Brooke and the reader wonders who the observer is who chronicles this. It is a novel, but if it had been a short story, it would still have hooked the reader.

Good first lines make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  How about this first line from Ulysses, by the king of great one-liners, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Or, take the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” 

Should your first lines be required to introduce your main character? I think not.

Dickens introduced an era in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, etc…” 

In his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan frequently opened with a glimpse into the side of evil, illuminating the foes whom Rand Al Thor must somehow prevail against, and that always hooked me.

All of the above books were begun as great ideas and the manuscripts were finished, which is why they were published. Admittedly, Robert Jordan did pass away before the final books were completed, but he wrote 12 of the 15 books and left a complete story arc with enough notes that Brandon Sanderson could finish the job. Jordan left behind a complete story, not just a first chapter.

If you are serious about writing, it’s necessary to read, to see how other authors have completed their work. Of course, you must read works published in your chosen genre, but to become an educated reader/author, you should look outside your favorite genre. You don’t have to spend your precious book purchasing funds on books you believe you won’t enjoy. Do a little advance research via the internet and then borrow the books from the library.

Most importantly–published authors, whether Indie or traditionally published, have finished their work. Maybe they didn’t do as great a job as some people think they could have done, but they did finish the job.

Grand ideas about what you intend to write mean nothing if you don’t finish the job. If you want to lay claim to being an author, write the ENTIRE novel! Get that story arc down on paper before you begin rewriting the first chapter! If all you have ever written is the first chapter, over and over, and over… perhaps you need to set that idea aside and begin one that interests you enough to inspire you to write a complete novel.

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