Welcome back to the Write a Brilliant Novel mini-course!
In today’s installment, I’ll show you how to organize your mindset and life so that you have the time and resources to write your novel as well as the key factors needed in a brilliant novel.
And in tomorrow’s course, we’ll finish off with a step-by-step plan for completing your novel in 90 days!
Ready? Let’s get started.
Your Life For the Next 90 Days
If you’re going to write a novel, it’s going to take time and energy. And that time and energy is going to have to come from somewhere.
So take out your calendar. Let’s say you’re going to start the novel writing process beginning the first of the next month.
Look at your calendar and plan ahead. Schedule time to write daily and keep an eye on days when you know you will not get much done — plan ahead to write a little more to make up for the days when you can’t write.
Next, set up a physical space with minimal distractions so that you can focus.
Even if you have very little time to write, you can still get a massive amount done, IF you are able to focus and write fast. And focus isn’t merely a magical ability that shows up randomly. You can CREATE focus, if you have proper prior planning.
Set the Right Goalposts
When you decide to write a novel, don’t start writing right away. That’s a recipe for failure.
Too many amateur writers jump willy-nilly into an exciting new writing project, expecting that their initial spark of interest will last for the entire project.
Not for races, not for marriages, and not for novels.
Of course, that first burst of excitement is helpful, but only if you harness it.
So set a start date in the near future for when you will begin working the novel — such as “the beginning of next month,” and start NOT by writing the novel itself, but by writing out your PLAN for your novel.
Because, remember: You are going to lose interest in your novel at some point. The key is to EXPECT this and PREPARE ahead of time, by creating goalposts.
Set daily word count AND time goals: I alternate between word count (2-3,000 words per day) and time (30 min to 1 hour per day) to keep things interesting.
Your brain likes novelty, but it also needs structure. Having 2-3 daily goals to alternate between every few months is a good way to strike the proper balance between the two.
Set story structure celebrations: Keep track of how far you’ve come, and how you felt during your writing that day. You can do this by keeping a journal or blog to record your progress. Then, when you hit the first 10%, 25%, 50% or whatever in your novel, take some time to celebrate and look at how far you’ve come!
One of the biggest inspiration sucks is the feeling that you’re not improving. But if you have a record of how far you’ve come, you’ll never lose motivation to keep going.
Have an accountability partner or partners: Report your progress at predetermined intervals (daily, weekly, etc) and have them report their progress to you as well.
Now that you have your life set up to start your novel project, let’s talk briefly about the three factors for success in creating your own brilliant novel:
- Your story idea
- Your character(s)
- And your ending
What’s Your Story Idea?
Is your story idea big enough for a full length novel treatment? Is it powerful enough to fill a 50–100K word book, without losing steam?
Some ideas aren’t, you know. Some ideas are only big enough for a novella or short story.
So how do you tell if your idea is right for a novel?
A true novel idea needs to include the following:
- A complex conflict that cannot be easily solved
- An overarching theme that you plan to explore deeply
- A fascinating character that will learn and grow throughout the events of the story
Notice world-building (even though it’s a favorite task of novelists) is not on this list.
That’s because even if you have an idea for an elaborate world on the same scale as Lord of The Rings it’s useless if you do not have a powerful STORY within that setting.
So make sure your novel passes the 3 tests above before you jump headfirst into it, or beware!
Your Unforgettable Character
Your main character is the viewpoint through which readers experience your novel.
So it’s critical that your reader feels kinship to him. Readers don’t necessarily have to LIKE him, but they have to feel like they understand him.
A lot of beginning writers take this the wrong way. They think coming up with a realistic character means knowing things like height, hair color, likes/dislikes, ethnicity, etc.
Those things are interesting, but they’re not the most important thing you need to know about your character.
Think about it: what do you love about your best friends? Is it their hair and eye color or their fondness for orange Fanta soda?
Of course not.
It’s their beliefs, attitudes, worldviews, personal history, and even their faults — the things that make them human. The things that make them like you.
That’s what makes them loveable and relevant to you.
It’s the same with novel characters.
Your main character’s physical appearance does not matter so much as how she sees the world, what she believes and why, and those invisible traits like intelligence, courage, vanity, loyalty, sneakiness, corruption, etc., that make human beings multi-dimensional and fascinating.
So get to know your character first, from the inside out, by asking yourself these questions:
- What/who does my character love/hate and why?
- What values does he value and why?
- What his greatest fear and biggest desire?
You can even do this interview-style: Imagine you are sitting across the table from your character with a journalist’s notebook, and start quizzing her. Ask her these questions. Write down the answers you hear.
From there, you can decide on physical traits and quirks that will be the finishing touch on a truly relatable foundational character.
How it All Ends
In the ancient book of Isaiah, God tells the prophet “I distinguish the end from the beginning.” (Isaiah 46:10)
Writers must do the same with their novels. You need to declare (to yourself) the end before you begin at the beginning.
Because if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.
You don’t need to have an ending scene completely fleshed out, but you should at least have an idea of where you will leave your character by the time you write “The End.”
Here are some questions to help you clarify your ending: By the end of the story…
- Has your character lost his misbeliefs?
- Has she reached her goal, or did he find something better?
- How has she changed, internally?
Once you know how the story ends, you can fill in the middle bits.
Ready for Part 2?
If you’ve been following the mini-course up until now, you should:
- Have a novel idea you want to work on, and know why you want to write it
- Have a good idea of the time you have available to spend on your novel
- Have set time/word count goals for your writing
- Have a good idea of your main plot, characters, and the ending that your novel is aiming for.
In tomorrow’s final installment of the Brilliant Novel mini courses, we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of what to do during each of the 90 days of your novel-writing project. Get ready!