How to Write a Novel by A Manly Guest Contributor on August 29, 2011 · 50 comments in Books,Travel & Leisure Editor s note: This

is a guest post from Mark D. Niehus. Ever since our ancestors first scratched on a dark cave wall a tale of great con quest or success on a hunt, man has strived to write. Great men and great noveli sts like John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and Jack London wrote stories to shar e experiences, to boast, and to leave their own unique mark on the world. Many men have dreamed of writing a novel. Perhaps you have been told by a teache r that you have a knack for writing. Maybe you re an avid reader and you think you could do just as well as the authors of the books you enjoy. Or perhaps you see writing a book as a challenge for yourself. The good thing is this: anyone can do it! Nothing is stopping you from firing up your laptop and hammering away to create the caper of the century. There is no barrier or cost to entry. All you need is paper, pen, and the will to succeed. A s the great Hemingway said: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed. Figuring out why you want to write a novel is critical, for it is fuel for the f ire to complete what will likely be a challenging task. For me, my desire was dr iven by a belief that I could create yarns as exciting and compelling as some of my favorite authors, men like Frederick Forsyth, David Morrell, Vince Flynn, an d others in the male-oriented spy thriller genre. It was also a personal challen ge to myself, something I had daydreamed about for ten years but had done nothin g with. I have a good friend who plans to write a novel only for his eight yearold daughter to read, a unique gift that he will dedicate to her. Pretty neat, p retty noble, and well worth the effort, in my mind. Once you have uncovered the why and made the decision to write a novel, then fig ure out how. It can be a daunting task for anyone to create, from the starting p oint of white blank screen, two hundred pages of a compelling story. But it s like many things in life simply figure out what others did and do the same thing. Thus , I took the same approach by carefully studying successful authors and the mark et for thriller fiction. Some basic tips for success that are a great start for any novelist: Outline I am a firm believer in outlining your story fully, before you begin. I learned this from Ken Follet, one of the most successful and prolific novelists of the l ast twenty years. On his website there is a section that describes his process o f writing, illustrating how outlining carefully is absolutely critical for him. This is different from what many think of the stereotypical author who waits for a flash of inspiration to bowl him over, then huddles over the keyboard to star t on page one, with no plan in mind, just the emotion of the idea driving him. G uess what? Most people, pros or not, sputter out at page fifty with this approac h. They write themselves into a corner or create part of a novel that will not w ork. Then what happens? They stop. Maybe you re one of them. You had a great initi al plot and inspiration but your tome (all forty-seven pages of it) is still parked on your laptop from 2001 and has never moved. You tried, you got stuck, and you quit. Think of outlining a novel in the same way you might for a business report (or a ny similar work-related document). Do you simply start hammering away at the key board blindly? Probably not. You most likely first sketch out individual pieces that will complete a whole. For example: * Section One: General overview * Section Two: Sales and marketing plan * Section Three: Competitive analysis And so on. Break the whole into discrete pieces that can easily be tackled bit b y bit. And so it is with a novel. * Prologue: Description of Russian general who invades Chechnya in 1722 * Chapter One: Incident in which protagonist gets in car accident with mysteriou s foreigner

in sessions of an hour or two at a time. If you are serious you will make time. a goal. to write before he had to start work. 365-page novel in one year. antagonist. he picked the top one hundred popular novels and read them to unders tand story and structure. No doubt. One page. a few hours every morning. in very little bites. as they say. you probably won t have a coherent or marketable novel . The reality is that many successful novelists use these same tactics. if you do not a bsolutely love what you are creating. I did this for my novel. An d more importantly it was a promise that I made to myself. with a limited sphere of characters in one sc ene? Very doable. If you follow the normal structure of storytelling. Write What You Like. Understand and study the main elements of a story (protagonist. co nflict. Steal Time One of the immediate responses that an uncommitted dreamer will use to kill his own idea before it is even fully developed is to say I don t have time. By doing so. As the great author Da vid Morrell (the creator of Rambo from his novel First Blood) teaches. But if all I want to do is make money. family. Simply put. So are most men. starting on page one? No way. is history. I don t know how many hours I put into my novel. Life was very busy for one talented. measureable pieces. If you are com mitted. and h obbies. years for most. four to six pages. Rewrite No matter how good you think you are. Could I cre ate a fast-paced thriller that spans four centuries. yo u will be fine. And while solitary periods alone in a quiet corner are best for most people. Months. But he took the t ime. writers a re astute observers. life in general. or a great idea for a plot twist that comes to you from nowhere. One page a day yields a complete. you have to go after it with a club. a challenge met . I found I could do my best work when I had a two hour window. polished novel. ten countries. no vel writing and world-building takes time. you can also steal time in small chunks.* Chapter Two: Back story and description of childhood of antagonist And so on. from the initial heady spark of i nspiration to ninth-draft. I thoroughly enjoy reading a good escapi st spy thriller. Write What You Love This is pretty obvious to most people but worth mentioning. arc. But writi ng one chapter. then it s doubtful you ll ever finish. hobbies. including training for and running a marathon. G reat man and novelist Jack London said it best: You can t wait for inspiration. So you re busy. Always carry something to writ e with. Part of my drive for fiction writing is that I strive for commercial success. and I thoroughly enjoy writing one. This is the biggest and most lucrative sector of the fiction market. you will make the time. If you don t. friends. I could both ensure that I had a workable. Even the busiest person can find a way to write just one page a day. alone. and I planned at the outlining stage exactly what happens at ever y juncture. He finishe d The Hunt For Red October and the rest. and six main characters all by the seat of my pants. Work. It could be snippets of conversati on between a bickering couple in an airport you overhear. Know the Structure of a Story Novelist Robin Cook said that before he started writing fiction as a young medic al student. I might be better off by targeting the market for romance novels which are bought primaril y by women. And much easier to ea t the task this way. resolution. family. climax. but for me it was a labor of love. But this doesn t interest me in any way. I broke the story down into thirty-nine disc rete chapters. I want to make money b y creating and selling novels. bored insurance agent who had a family to feed. About fou r hundred words. and always write down your ideas or observations. while still spending time with my wife. Writing is obviously a solitary pursuit that dem ands longer periods of concentration. etc) before you craft your novel and you will f ind the path much easier. believable s tory and also break the writing task into small. always ready with a keen eye and an open ear for bits of re al life that they can blend into their novel. And I did it while working sixty hours a week running my own business. or how much someone may have praised your .

I wanted my novel to appeal to readers who en joy the popular spy thriller. till your novel gleams like a polished jewel. your own mark of uniqueness. for you will just fail. . put it away for a few weeks. At the end of the day. but instea d an everyday Joe who literally falls into the middle of the action. but full of holes. then I did on the first draft. Or clichéd characters. but don t try to be another author. rip and get rid of every word th at does not contribute. Or worse. Hemingway was certain of this: The first draft of anything is s**t. Only by rewriting (improvement) can you hone and perfect . For me. Discover and use your own words. Pa t yourself on the back for a job well done (you did just complete a novel. Usually. I know I spent much more time re writing and ultimately improving my novel. so me will be easy. Write the truest sentence that yo u know. But they will all be your own. your own characters. the first draft is pretty bad. rip. but with my own little twist of making the protago nist not the typical cardboard cut-out of an invincible secret agent. after all). Be Yourself You can admire and emulate others work. Don t be afraid to rip. Some days will be hard. How do you start? In the wise and immortal words of Hemingway: All you have to do is write one true sentence. Don t be afraid to be different. then look at it anew with fresh eyes and sta rt making it better. make sure to enjoy your unique adventure. t o bare your soul a little. Or something else. Maybe it s coherent.writing your first draft is only a start. This is what is called voice.