My First Novel, Part I

Ok, I just finished writing the first draft of my first ever novel.

Did I learn anything in the process? Plenty. So, I thought I would share some of the more salient points of my experience with you. My first draft totaled approximately 150,000 words, about twice as long as I originally had planned to write. However, as I started writing the story, I realized it was becoming more complex by the day. My original high-level outline called for about 60-70 scenes. The final draft had 105 scenes, not including the epilogue.

I tend to be a bit wordy but I found that my writing tightened up as I went along. Scenes that went on for 3000+ words in the beginning, I could now write in only 1500-2000 words. I think when you are banging out scene after scene, like I was near the end, there is a fatigue element that is somewhat helpful in that a reader can also experience fatigue in reading a writer’s work. This becomes even more apparent during the editing stage when I read through my work end-to-end for the first time and you get a better sense of pacing within your novel.

I started at the beginning thinking I was going to be a strict outliner, but ended up discovering I was more of a “pantser” that I first imagined. Now, I was partially saved by the fact my novel is mainly character driven so that intricate plotting was less of a necessity than if I was writing a hyper-intense thriller. I discovered, at least for this novel, that I prefer using writing beats versus having a whole slew of scenes mapped out in detail. I would often tackle a scene with a vague notion of what I was trying to achieve in it then would let my inspiration guide me through the scene. Sometimes, I would get stuck and writing a scene took me longer than I originally planned, but I didn’t like moving onto the next scene until I had satisfactorily completed the current one. Of course, “satisfactorily” is a subjective term, but as I loathe the thought of major re-writes, I generally wanted to at least nail the tone and basic content of the scene as I envisioned it in my brain. If I could do 75% to 80% of the work, I could finish the remainder during the editing stage.

I wrote my scenes in order. I think it would be difficult for me to write certain scenes out of order, although there were numerous scenes I had in my head that I knew I wouldn’t write for awhile and that were seared into my brain, dying to come out onto the page. When I finally did get to writing them, it was a great relief to me to remove these contents from my brain and place them onto a page.

I tackled my novel by dividing it into four parts. Essentially, I used a high level plan where I employed a three act structure. In this three act structure, Act 2 can often be divided into Act 2a and Act 2b. Both serve the overall goals of what an Act 2 should serve (it’s the real meat of a story), but in my mind, each half presents different challenges that the main characters must face. Of course, Act 1 sets up the story and the problems needing solving, and Act 3 provides the final challenges and resolutions. By dividing the novel into four parts, I found it less daunting to write. I would start writing each section and then plan it out in more detail as I went along. Usually once I was half way done the section, I could map out the rest of it in my head. Sometimes, I would play around with it on paper just to make sure the section didn’t go off the rails.

My novel was highly theme driven also. I planned out the basic themes before even starting the novel. As my writing continued, I would revisit my notes to make sure my draft was following along with these themes and potentially addressing any new themes that may have popped into my head.

I often found that my subconscious brain did a lot of the heavy lifting for me. Many times, I dreaded a certain upcoming scene because I had no clue what was going to happen in it but I knew it was critical to the overall development of the novel. Often time, I would be thinking four to five scenes ahead of me and by the time I reached the scene I had previous dreaded, my subconscious had figured out what needed to happen in the scene, thus making writing it much easier than I expected. One of the neat byproducts of this was sometimes I would write about some quirky thing in one section of the novel, not understanding what it really meant, only to later have it make complete sense to me as I wrote a later scene.

Music also played a major role in the creation of this novel. I often found certain songs would serve as a muse for me in my writing. Depending on the song, I could visualize clearly in my head how certain scenes would play out. I could feel the emotions of the characters involved. I used this process to capture exactly what I saw and felt onto the page as best as I could.

Writing a novel was a dream of mine since childhood. Unfortunately, I spent a good portion of my life doing nothing to advance my writing skills, other than reading, of course. Despite the fact I had purchased books on writing novels, how to structure them, how to promote them, etc, I had committed next to no time investing in developing my actual writing skills. Luckily, I had a few inspirational persons along the way who encouraged me to write. I figured, if even one other person is interested in me writing a story, then there are perhaps others. Maybe even a dozen or so. 😉

I am busy editing now, which will comprise a future post. Suffice it to say, regardless of what happens with this book, I am happy to have plowed ahead with this process and am the better person for it.

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2 thoughts on “My First Novel, Part I

  1. Congratulations on finishing your first draft and achieving your dream! That’s wonderful to hear.

    Good point about reader fatigue – I think it’s a generally good rule of thumb that if a scene is boring or tedious to write, it’ll probably be boring or tedious to read. I’ve had to remind myself of that occasionally. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if I’m just not in a good mood for writing or if it’s truly a bad scene, but if I’m thinking, “Bleh, I wish I could just skip past this and get to the good stuff,” then maybe I should do exactly that!

    Like

    • The first thing I did in my editing was read the story from beginning to end like a reader would. It illuminates the flaws in the first draft to a large degree including pacing problems, continuity errors, excessive naval gazing, and character inconsistencies. Only then after reading it through, did I tackle editing. I think it works for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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