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How to Write a 'Darned Good' Novel

by Craig Lock


If you've ever wanted to write a novel, but didn't know where to start, you'll find plenty of help writing your book in this article. Novel writing is just like any other writing in that there are certain skills you must learn and master to succeed in writing your first story.

Time to Start Writing Your Novel!

Me write a novel - impossible!

Don't worry, I had the same thoughts six years ago!

"People just don't think of writing seriously. If I had been going off to teach all day, it would have been different. They wouldn't interrupt your work if you were employed at a grocery store. That's considered serious business. It's because you work at home. People think they can interrupt writing." -Jessamyn West

(People here do it to me all the time...not thinking I'm "working"!).

"I write because something inside myself, inner and unconscious forces me to. That is the first compulsion. The second is one of ethical and moral duty. I feel responsible to tell stories that inspire readers to consider more deeply who they are."


So what is it that makes you want to write a novel?  


Firstly ask yourself: Why do you want to write a novel? Do you have a story to tell, a message to convey, or do you perhaps hope to inspire/challenge, entertain, be famous, reach out to others, reach into your own mind. Do you perhaps want a new identity, to reach your potential as a writer? I think that a person's motives often change as your writing proceeds.

It takes a great deal of effort to write, so PLAN ahead. Organize a few hours a day, when you won't be disturbed. WHOOA - hardly likely! The average length of a novel is 60000-100000 words. I've never counted mine. I keep my books short for two main reasons: number one, and most importantly, to tell a story as simply as possible with a message...and for purely financial considerations. I lived without a cent of income from my books for two years, when I started out. So I hurried to get them out, to earn some royalties...and save my family from starvation. Or the embarrassment of the soup kitchen!

So be prepared to make the sacrifices. BIG ones! Are you prepared to work away on your novel every day (and evening, instead of going out and having fun?). I've had a lot of fun writing, even though I may have become a "hermit and social misfit" in the process! Oh well, we'll see if "writing success" changes that!

How do you eat an elephant, or write a novel? In small chunks. So set daily goals for yourself. If you write, say 500 words a day, a first draft of your manuscript will take 120 days or 4 months. If you write 1000 words a day, you will halve the time: it will then take only 60 days. So set daily goals - at least two hours writing. Then STICK TO IT.


Jot down plenty of notes. What characters do you want in it. Draw up a flow chart to help you develop a plot. Then draw up a chronology (big word) of the plot: eg. when were the characters born, where did they go to school, marry and other major events in their lives, etc? It's difficult to remember everything, when your mind is racing ahead. A chronology helps you to keep on track, like ensuring that the ages of the characters correspond with the events. Remember: It doesn't matter WHAT you write - just as long as you ...


But first there are some decisions to be made: Whether to write in the first, second or third person? Also from whose perspective? What tense? What is the structure to be? There must be a strong foundation, so that your novel does not 'fall down'. What is the climax? Stretch significant events central to the story and shrink unimportant ones. Describe events significant to the main theme in detail. Don't have too much description of a character, who appears only once in the story. Sort out the plot as you go along. I go for walks along the deserted beautiful beaches here and I daydream. Ensure that your novel has a RHYTHM of it's own and events move forward steadily in a logical sequence.


Find a comfortable place to write, although I think that an inspired writer can write anywhere. Tolstoi apparently wrote in the village square; because the expressions on the faces of the passing parade inspired him to write.


Here are some common pitfalls for first novels ... The four main ones are:

  1. A lack of focus. In other words, there are often too many characters, issues and sub-plots.
  2. Too little plot; so that the novel goes on and on, telling every boring little detail. Trivialities like, how many lumps of sugar in her tea-cup.
  3. There is no sense of character.
  4. Telling and not SHOWING. Eg: Don't write "tamely": The dog felt affectionate towards his master every evening...instead of: "Bonzo bounded to the door, leapt up and licked Leo's face with his 'slobbering chops' every evening after the day's work was done. It was their home-coming ritual." Far more "spicy and zingy"... don't you think?

    Without "KFC"!

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The length of your novel? Remember shorter novels are far easier to get published, than a long 'tomb' (or is that tome?) by an unknown author. Try to put yourself in the editor's shoes, when a new long book lands on his (or usually her) desk. Not easy! Did you know that the average first novel here in New Zealand sells only 1200 to 2000 copies and few NZ novels top 10000 sales. (Something to put on the back of chewing gum wrapping paper). No wonder Kiwi novelists are as poor as church-mice, then!

N.B: Keep in mind the expression: 'It's not the size of the wand, but the power of the magician that counts.'

Finally, I believe that nearly everyone can write their own book. If that's your dream, what's stopping you? Just go for it.

How to Write Great Prose

Every novel begins with great prose, click now for an article that explains how you can begin writing great prose today!

Writing Tips

If you're not sure about some punctuation, grammar, style or content details, you can browse more than 500 past issues of the Write Way newsletter now.

Write Your Own Best Seller! 

This year, don't just read a best-seller ... Write your own using the software program that works in the same way J K Rowling writes her Harry Potter novels!

Click now to discover more about how to write your novel.




Craig Lock 


Whether you realise it or not, every time you speak, people use your language to instantly "tip them off" about how educated, competent and successful you are. It's not surprising, therefore, that study after study has shown that a powerful vocabulary is directly linked to success, status and income.

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Want to know more about how to write? Click here for more articles about all aspects of writing.

Why not set your next novel on a golf course?





















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