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3 things I learnt writing my first novel

Creative brain
I'm daunted, nervous, excited anxious and every other fluctuating emotion I can think of.

3 things I learned writing my first novel

It’s been a while since I’ve been at the start of a new novel. I’d forgotten what a rollercoaster it is and how daunting that blank slate can be – and how exciting.

I’m a few chapters into The Possessing Things now and I’m daunted, nervous, excited anxious and every other fluctuating emotion I can think of.

On Saturday, I had a ‘what is wrong with me, why are you doing this to yourself’ moment that lasted about 4 hours… and by that I meant putting myself through the emotional turmoil of writing another book (not just myself, my poor family, bless them – see also ‘things a writer’s spouse partner says #1)

However, I’m hoping what I’ve learned writing my first novel will with make things a little easier this time around.

The Possessing Things is already an entirely different book than the one I started writing – the same thing happened with Beat The Rain, too – but this time, I’m (hopefully) a little wiser.

Here’s three things I learned from writing my first novel:

1. Plan your novel structure (and keep it up to date)

I had no plan or structure when I wrote Beat The Rain and while there is a lot to be said for letting the story evolve as you write, it meant when I made structural changes, it was a nightmare task to go back and retrofit it, especially if I changed something significant about a character or plot (which I did a lot).

This time around, I’ve got a four act structure already planned, I know plot turning points, the mid point, the end and the main structural skeleton that binds the entire novel together.

I’ve written a one-line description of each chapter and I know the main character arcs, all before I’ve written a word.

2. Minor characters bring your novel to life

Minor characters are vital, they are the meat that fleshes our the bones of your story. At first, when writing Beat The Rain,  I thought they were incidental, but I soon realised I needed to invest as much time in developing a character who only appeared on a few pages as I did my main characters.

The minor characters bring your main protagonists to life, they help define them by their difference and by how they affect and change them.

Minor characters facilitate the plot every bit as much as your minor plot points.

Also, in some ways, I loved writing the minor characters even more than the main protagonists. There might be an entire novel in Imogen from Beat The Rain, she’s so deliciously dislikable.

3. Subplots are vital

The little things matter every bit as much as the big ones in a novel. If your main structure is your skeleton, your characters are the flesh, then your subplots are the muscle and sinew, allowing movement and change.

Subplots change things more subtly for the characters and actually make the larger story arcs possible. Subplots lead the characters in the direction they need to go so the big things can happen.

Lessons learnt

Planning in advance is a big change for me. The pre-Beat The Rain me would have thought planning anything in advance was stifling creativity, but now I think the opposite.

I’ve significantly changed the entire main plot for The Possessing Things in the past week, and I’ve adjusted my plan to suit. If anything, it’s allowing me to be more creative, because I can see more clearly what I’m trying to do as a whole.

That said, I haven’t changed completely. I haven’t planned a single subplot. I am going to let those happen as I write… my feeling is, they arise because I need my characters to get from point A to point B… as long as I have a clear idea of the to main plot point I need a character to get to, I enjoy seeing how the story facilitates that as I write.

We’ll see how it pans out – I’m going to do my best to enjoy the process (not easy, I’m naturally anxious). Wish me luck 😀

(Update: 8 June – I’m 3/4 of the way through this novel now and it’s structure has changed dramatically – it’s still hard to hold on to, no matter how well intentioned.)

About the author

Author, writer, father, runner. Not always in that order. Born in London, England, Nigel now lives in Brighton (via Nottingham) with his partner, their two children and greying ginger dog.

Buy Beat The Rain

“Absolutely compelling.”

In the UK, Amazon will release Beat The Rain on 1 July, 2016 – you can pre-order to get one of the first copies now.

Beat The Rain is published by Roundfire Books and will be published from other outlets and online stores on 29 July 2016.

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