Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow Wattpadres author Josh Townley to the blog. I hope you enjoy his tips for writing your first novel and don’t forget to check out his book!
Maybe you’ve always dreamed of writing but never thought you had the talent. Maybe you’ve started a few stories already only to find yourself three chapters in with no idea what to do next. You’re not alone. Until a few years ago I didn’t think I could ever write a book. I certainly didn’t think I’d write something that would be read by hundreds of thousands of people on Wattpad, and reach the #1 spot in its category.
I may be only at the beginning of my writing life, but I’ve picked up a few things that might help you if you’re thinking of setting out on your own literary journey.
A lot of these types of blog posts boil down to the same few tips that are repeated in every corner of the internet, but hopefully, you’ll find one or two things a bit different on this list.
1. Embrace schizophrenia
To write convincing characters, the heart of any good story, you need to know them inside-out, to the point that you can carry on unscripted conversations between them in your head. Don’t concern yourself too much with what they look like, aside from any key traits that might affect their personality, but get to know their voice.
Write letters or journal entries from their point of view. Know their dreams; their insecurities; their phobias and especially their flaws. Know what they want at the beginning of the story and how they plan on going about getting it. Do this not only for your main character but secondary characters, too. If you know them well enough, they’ll react naturally (but often surprisingly) to any situation you throw at them.
2. Read Widely
Maybe you’re set on writing YA Fantasy, but that shouldn’t mean you limit yourself to only reading YA Fantasy. Yes, it’s important to keep up with what’s happening in your genre, but if you close your ears to new voices and experiences, you’ll never develop an original voice of your own.
As a new writer, think of yourself as a farmer tending a field. At first it’s new and exciting. You plant the seed of an idea and rejoice as it begins to sprout. But you quickly realize your field is surrounded by fences. You want to expand, but the fences hold you back in every direction, and soon the crop begins to wither. Reading is how you move those fences and give yourself room to grow. My advice is to read the classics above all else – to stand on the shoulders of giants, as they say. Hemingway, Austen, and Dickens will each give you acres of fertile land to sow. Tolstoy and Melville will clear a path to the horizon and beyond. Faulkner and Joyce will teach you how to cultivate ground that to most would seem impassable, while the likes of Tolkien and Asimov will take you to new lands entirely.
Reading the classics as well as contemporary fiction will show you what’s been done, what’s possible, and will give you the space and the confidence to try something new.
3. Write poetry
I’m sure I’ll meet some argument on this one, but it’s my firm belief that nobody can write great prose without an appreciation of poetry. Poetry challenges your brain to rearrange each line again and again to achieve its greatest clarity and effect. It teaches you to listen to the rhythm of the words as one sentence flows into the next, how a simple pause can heighten tension, how the choice between two words that have the same meaning can dramatically change the outcome.
Writing poetry is a great way to warm up and stretch your vocabulary before a writing session. It doesn’t have to be something publishable, or even especially meaningful. Maybe you delete it immediately afterward and it’s never seen by another human being, but in my opinion there’s no better way to bring your writing to life than to read and write a little poetry.
4. To plot or not to plot
That is one of the biggest questions among new writers. Do you plan out the story in advance, and if you do, how much detail should you go into? For me, the answer is very minimal plotting, but it really depends on your genre and the sort of story you’re telling. Something like a murder mystery, with multiple suspects, alibis to keep track of, and red herrings swimming around, may need to be plotted extremely carefully so that all the clues come together in just the right way. However, I find that if I put all my energy into planning the story, and I know exactly what’s going to happen and when there’s no enjoyment left in writing it. I need to be surprised as I go. I need to write my characters into a corner, with no clear way out, and then puzzle over it for hours or days as I try to think of a way to pull them through it. I find this produces the most exciting and unexpected twists and turns in a story.
If you’re writing speculative fiction, you will need to do some planning before you begin writing, but I think the most effective way to spend your time is to concentrate on world building and character development, and let the plot take care of itself for the most part. If you’ve created a rich, living, breathing world, and well-rounded characters with a purpose, turn them loose on that world and see what happens.
5. Start with a bang
Please, I beg you, don’t begin with your main character waking up and going about a typical day at school before you get to the interesting stuff. Readers these days have a lot of other things competing for their attention so if you don’t hook them within the first few pages (if not the first few lines!) you will have lost them forever.
Another danger among new writers, especially those of fantasy and science fiction, is the urge to dump all their meticulously planned world building on the reader in the first chapter. Don’t underestimate your audience. They don’t need to understand everything in the beginning. Let them see the world through the eyes of your character in a realistic way. If you’ve created an interesting character and world, they’ll stick with you to uncover the secrets and mysteries little by little.
6. Come to your senses
A lot of writers imagine their story playing out as a movie in their heads (or perhaps these days it’s an HBO or Netflix series), and so they’re very in touch with how a scene might look and sound. But don’t forget that books are a very different medium. If your writing is good enough you can get inside a reader’s head in a way that makes movies jealous, and you can tap into all of their senses. Smell, taste, and touch are all open to you to help immerse your reader in the story. Let us feel the weight of iron shackles around our wrists, and the heat on our downturned faces as we pass each torch that lights the corridor. Let us hear the echo of screams and the rattle of chains through the stone walls, and breathe the stale air that’s so thick with ancient rust and the stench of rats that it seeps down our throats and spreads over the roofs of our mouths until we taste it…
You get the idea.
Just remember that, like all things, you can overdo it. Keep it relevant to your character and their frame of mind.
7. Write bravely
My last and most important piece of advice is to write without fear. Understand that all rules are merely conventions, and they can and should be bent, broken and twisted to serve your story. Be unexpected. I mean this not just in terms of the plot, but with your writing style, too. Take a chance. Experiment. Stand out. Think a scene would be better without any punctuation? Go for it. Deliberate spelling or grammatical errors in a scene from the point of view of someone mentally handicapped? Why not? Repetition of a word, sentence or idea? Who’s going to stop you?
Readers will forgive almost anything as long as you keep them entertained, so don’t be afraid of making ‘mistakes’.
About the Author:
Josh Townley is a writer of horror (and occasionally other genres) from Melbourne, Australia. You’ll find him on Wattpad at wattpad.com/joshtownley where you can also read his acclaimed novella ‘ZOEY’, a unique telling of the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of a three-year-old girl.