Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sybil Baker Shares First Novel Advice

Today's guest blogger Sybil Baker talks about novel writing. Her advice? Read more...

By Sybil Baker author of The Life Plan

With old drafts of a novel or two languishing in desk drawers, another one I’m revising, and another one published, the most important thing I’ve learned about novel writing is that I have a lot more to learn. We can all find examples of some lucky or extraordinarily talented writers whose first novel was published to much fanfare and acclaim. Most times, though, you’ll read about how a famous author had to write a terrible novel or two before they wrote the good one. Of course this is the last thing anyone toiling over their manuscript wants to think.

But like it or not, you can’t learn to ride a bike, play the piano, or play golf by reading how-to books and dreaming of success. You have to get out and do it, even if you fall the first few times.

That said, there are some things that I learned the hard way—by doing—that I can share with you to save you some time while you are working on your novel.

1. Commit to finishing the first draft, no matter how horrible it is. This is probably the most important advice I can give. I’ve seen many talented writers who couldn’t get their novel finished because they were unable to continue until they had those first few chapters “perfect” in their mind. Here’s the thing: you’ll probably be massively revising those first few chapters anyway, and you won’t know how you’re going to revise them until you finish that first draft. Trust me.

2. Use an outline. An outline will actually free you up because you don’t have to worry about basic plot points and you can explore characters and scenes. Remember, your outline is there to serve you—you can always revise your outline or veer from it, but refer to it when you feel you’ve lost the plot or have strayed too far from the novel’s story.

3. Structure your novel into three acts. Even the most apparently experimental novels use the three act structure for their novel with plot points and a mid point. Like an outline, a three act structure will actually free you up to focus on character development and keep the novel on course.

4. Think of your novel in terms of scenes, not chapters. Each scene needs its own purpose, with a beginning, middle, and end, and forward the action of the novel. Scenes build on each other and form your chapters.

5. Read novels in your genre (this includes literary genres) and outline them. Literature is a conversation, so it’s essential to know what other people have written or writing and how your novel fits in with the conversation. By analyzing the structure of those novels, you’ll get a better feel for how to structure your own novel.

Remember, after you write the draft of your novel you’ll have a much easier time writing your second or revising your first. Practice may not make perfect, but it will improve your game.

Find Sybil Baker She blogs at> Find The Life Plan book trailer at
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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