5 Things You Should Know about Writing a Novel

Even though I have not yet published a novel, I’ve written several full first drafts of novels. For the fantasy trilogy that is my current main project, I’m working on the third draft of the first book. Since I’ve completed more than a few full first drafts, I do feel qualified to talk about the work that is entailed in writing a novel from beginning to end.

So if you’ve started a novel, are thinking about writing a novel, or are wondering what the difference is between a novel and a short story, then I believe these five tips can help you:

Your NaNoWriMo novel is not ready for publication in December. Nor is any first draft ready for public consumption. See the first paragraph of this post for reference. Notice that I mention that I’m on my third draft of a novel. Even the best writer in the world goes through several drafts and rewrites. Also please note that tidying up a few spelling errors and run-on sentences does not qualify as a rewrite or second draft. If you want your finished novel to be publication-ready, then get feedback from some good critique partners or beta readers, go through several full rewrites, and then send it off to an editor. 

A novel is more than just a long short story. If you’re a master at writing short stories, then be prepared for an entirely different experience with writing a novel. Even if the core of an idea could work for either a short story or a novel, there’s a lot more to it than just padding out the word count of a 20,000 word short story to make it into a 80,000 word novel. In a novel, a plot can be much more complex, there are usually one or more subplots, more characters can be used, and there needs to be a greater variety of pacing. Also, even if you’re a pantser, writing a novel usually requires a bit more planning and outlining ahead of time than a short story might.

Know Your Genre. Yes, there are some wonderful cross-genre stories out there, and everybody wants to invent a new concept or spearhead a new trend. But if your book doesn’t have a clearly defined genre, you’ll have trouble finding your ideal readers, and book stores and ebook sites will have a hard time listing the book properly. Your genre can be something broad – fantasy, mystery, literary – or something very specific, like YA urban paranormal, historical cozy mystery, or women’s fiction. But pick a category, so that both you and your potential readers know what you’re writing.

There’s no “one right way” to do it. No, I’m not contradicting my previous three points. Some people outline out every scene before they get started, some just have a loose kernel of an idea and discover the story as they go along. Some write every scene in order, some jump around during the first draft stage. Some people use Word, some use Scrivener, some use pen and paper. Find what’s comfortable for you. If you’re not enjoying the process of novel writing, it will be that much harder to finish.

It’s a big commitment. This is perhaps the most important point of all. Whether you’re a NaNoWriMo winner who’s pounded out a full first draft in 30 days, or it’s taken you years to finish a draft, writing a novel takes commitment and dedication. Always remember that if you want to write a novel, no matter what your writing technique is or how long it takes, your goal should be to finish. Finishing takes guts, no doubt about it – but it’s something that anyone can do.

Would you add anything to this list?

Music Review: “Revitty Rakkaus,” Kuunkuiskaajat

The Finnish folk-rock duo Kuunkuiskaajat has just released their second album, a crowd-funded project titled Revitty Rakkaus. I first started following the duo of Susan Aho and Johanna Hytti from their time with the band Värttinä.

For any Värttinä fans who haven’t heard Kuunkuiskaajat’s music yet, it’s well worth checking out. With a generally light and folksy sound, Susan and Johanna’s voices interweave like a dance, punctuated by Susan’s masterful accordion playing.

This album has perhaps a bit less of a “traditional” sound than their first album, as most of the tracks feature strong modern percussion. The upbeat tracks, like “Kaupungilla” and “Polttaa,” usually feature Susan as the lead vocal, while the slower, ballad-like tracks such as “”Unelmaa” and “Elämä Kantaa” let Johanna’s voice shine.

In listening to this album, I was reminded that while Finland is usually grouped in with the rest of Scandinavia, musically they seem to belong more with Eastern Europe. To my Western-trained ear, tracks like “Salakavala” and the title track “Revitty Rakkaus” held the rhythms and sounds of Eastern lands. The entire album is a beautiful blending of East and West, and traditional and modern.

Whether you’re a fan of Värttinä, Eastern European folk music, or you can’t even find Finland on a map, I encourage you to give Kuunkuiskaajat a listen!

Kuunkuiskaajat’s website (in Finnish)

Kuunkuiskaajat on Facebook


What Scares Me About Writing

Even though I love to write, there are some things I dread doing as a writer. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with blog posts. Writing stuff for my job isn’t always the same thrill-a-minute adventure as writing my own stories. But sometimes, I even dread writing my stories.

The biggest thing I dread writing are battle scenes. For some reason, I find it equally hard to write a big epic battle with armies as I do to write a sword fight or sparring match between two people. My stories are never bloodbaths or fight-fests, but since I write mostly high fantasy, there’s got to be at least a good battle scene or two.

In the fantasy trilogy that I’ve been working on for some time now, I’m currently almost finished with a major rewrite of book one. I’m almost done with the book (yay!) but that means that I’ve come to the point of the big climactic battle (sigh). Revising the battle scenes isn’t much easier than it was writing them the first time.

Epic fantasy battle look great on a screen, and they look pretty good in my head; but getting that into words on the page? That scares me. I write the scenes with much grumbling and trepidation, asking myself why I do this to myself. Because I love high fantasy, that’s why, and I always wind up telling stories that need a big battle.

So, enter a new genre. While I’m slogging through this fantasy rewrite (and fussing over the stalled book two, which I’ve paused because I’m at the battle scenes in that book, too), I decided to start another project. Because I’m a glutton for punishment I thought it would be fun. This project is something totally new for me – historical fiction.

This new story is set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, so I was delighted as I was doing my outline and realized that I have no battle scenes to write. What a freeing feeling! I thought I’d have no challenges with this story because the climax does not involve sword fights or goblin armies hurling magic spells. But there is something about this story that does intimidate me – I’m writing about something real.

Fantasy, for me, is easy (except for the battles). I can basically do whatever I want, and I’m the expert because I made it up. But historical fiction? Now I’m writing about something that other people know way more about than I do. And there are some people still alive today who lived through this time period. I’m writing about a real place, real events, and one of my point of view characters was a real person. I’d (almost) rather write a sword fight.

So why do I keep on writing all this stuff that I dread to write? Because I’m a storyteller. Maybe this is part of the “work” part of writing, the part that makes it not fun. But I know that if I push through my fear of writing a battle scene or my fear of portraying a real person in a work of fiction, I’ll come out a stronger writer for it.

Please share with me – is there any part of writing or storytelling that scares you?