How to Write a Novel – Part One

Writing Advice from Famous Authors … and Me.

I made many attempts at writing a book before I wrote Beguiled: Frost Trilogy 1, all of which are languishing in the depths of my computer’s hard drive and, with the exception of one that I plan to finish one day, will forever stay there.

The problem (I realise now) was I couldn’t settle on what type of book I should write and how I should write it. It was the discovery of Erotic Romance that made me realise this is the genre I should be writing. So I sat down at my computer, thought about my perfect man, and wrote Nick Frost.

That was two-and-a-half years ago now and I’ve learned so much. Some of which is what follows.

This post isn’t about getting you motivated or telling you what to write (only you know that), just some advice to take some of the heat off. You’ve got a great idea; know your characters inside out and your book is going to be the best thing ever..! But still you’ve read those scathing posts, articles (and even reader reviews on GR) where people bang on about grammar, sentence structure, dialogue tags and technical stuff like that and you worry about whether you’ll be good enough.

Stop worrying about that stuff and just write the book. Yes, you need to think about those things, but get a first draft done and then worry about it. Whatever you write will need to be edited (if you can afford a professional editor so much the better), but guess what? None of that is as scary as you probably think it is anyway.

Here’s what successful, famous authors (and I) have to say…

It’s okay to use single-sentence paragraphs.
So says, Stephen King − and he should know.

“The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story… to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.

The single-sentence paragraph more closely resembles talk than writing, and that’s good. Writing is seduction. Good talk is part of seduction. If not so, why do so many couples who start the evening at dinner wind up in bed?”

THANK YOU, Stephen!

There’s a lot of talk about grammatical correctness. Yes you should write grammatically, but don’t get too hung up on this. I write in Word and that flags up in green when it doesn’t think something is grammatically correct. Sometimes this is just down to punctuation, in which case I play around with commas and semi colons to see if that’s the problem. Most often it’s the dialogue, so I ignore it. Other times it’s the narrative. Sometimes, I tweak the narrative sentence, other times I don’t.

I write in first person, present tense. The narrative is my characters’ thoughts and observations. People don’t speak grammatically and they don’t think that way either, so I disagree that (when writing in first person) the narrative always has to be grammatically correct. I not only want the dialogue to sound natural, I want the narrative to as well.

The storytelling is more important. Keep the story flowing, the dialogue natural and the readers’ attention well-and-truly grabbed and to hell with whether every damn sentence is grammatically correct.

This doesn’t apply to typos though. So be sure to go through your manuscript with the proverbial fine-toothed comb and have it proofread before publishing. Although don’t worry when the occasion two or three typos slip through. They inevitably will. No one is perfect.

Adverbs: she snapped … he hissed … she pleaded … he shouted.

I was guilty of using these occasionally in Beguiled: Frost Trilogy 1 I know, but I have learned my lesson now. Although don’t shoot me if Nick still “growls” something in the other two Frost Trilogy books LOL.

Elmore Leonard says adverbs are “a mortal sin” and he’s not the only one who thinks so.

That’s because there is no need for them. The reader should know how someone has said something from the words they’ve said. When they don’t (and sometimes they won’t simply because the words on the page can be read with differing intonations) there are other ways you can show how they have been spoken.

You can also us an exclamation mark or italicise the words if someone is shouting. Or if they’re really yelling USE ALL CAPS, but not italicised or with an ! − that’s just overkill. Personally I wouldn’t use all caps too often and never, ever extended words. Ugggggghhhhhh! I can’t stand seeing that on the page. If you’ve italicised it Ugh that’s enough.

Or have the person who’s been spoken to describe the look on the other person’s face and how it makes them feel.

First-person − Third-person

Jonathan Franzen says you should always “write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly”.

I disagree. I naturally write in first person present tense because I like that it has more immediacy. For some reason, when I read erotic romances, third person just feels too detached to me. I’m far from the only romance author who writes in first-person, so you decide which feels more natural for you and then go for it. Make your characters come alive on the page from the way they speak and think.

Character descriptions

Elmore Leonard (again) would have you believe less is most definitely more and detailed descriptions of your characters are to be avoided … Yes and no.

If you’re writing erotic romance novels you want readers to fall in love with your Hero so they need a clear(ish) idea of what he looks like; just don’t overdo it.

This is how Mia describes Nick Frost in Beguiled: Frost Trilogy 1 when she first sees him…

Beguiled FT1 Man with a capital MuhMartin and the flings at Uni had been just boys in comparison to the male who’s approaching.

This is a Man. With a capital Muh.

Wow.

I’m stunned. I think my heart actually stops beating for a couple of seconds. Oh my God he’s… Beautiful.

But his face is still strongly masculine. His dark blonde hair is swept back from his brow, falling over his collar, it’s length a hint of defiance; a rebellious bad-boy edge at odds with his otherwise well-groomed, urbane appearance.

His jacket open, one hand in his trouser pocket he saunters over; his body moving with an easy, loose-limbed grace. A walk that’s simultaneously relaxed yet supremely confident.

And damned sexy.

His body is made for Armani.

Giorgio himself would weep at the sight of his creation adorning such perfection; the sleek navy Tuxedo doing nothing to hide the hard muscular physique beneath the exquisite tailoring. He’s well built, but not bulky; just sinewy, powerful and strong.

* * *

True, a little later we discover Nick’s eyes are sapphire blue, but there’s still plenty of room for readers to conjure up their own personal mental image of the irresistible, Nick Frost.

Dialogue.

Rose Tremain sums up how to approach dialogue in one sentence: “Write dialogue that people would actually speak”.

God's Gift screaming my name

* * *

Sebastian Baines is my Hero in God’s Gift 1. He definitely has the confidence of three men. He’s bossy and seductive, which comes across in the quote on this teaser.

Whilst attending a party, Gina’s not happy about having to pretend to be his girlfriend for the evening, but Sebastian has an answer to that.

* * *

What else is there to say on the matter? You know your characters and how they think and feel so you know how they speak too. So write the words they would say.

That blends seamlessly into Character Voices. Each character has their own personality so therefore will have their own ‘voice’. Don’t have both all your characters speaking the same way. Some will say, don’t while another would always say, do not. It’s a small thing, but it’s these small things that differentiate characters.

Gerunds − ‘ing’ words and doing two things at once.

A lot of authors are guilty of this − although I think I corrected them all when I edited Beguiled: Frost Trilogy 1. It’s tempting to start a sentence with an ‘ing’ word:

Grabbing her bag she was out the door in a heartbeat.

You’ve got to change up the sentence structure sometimes, right? You don’t want too many sentences beginning with ‘I’ or ‘(s)he’ otherwise it just sounds like a list of what’s happening, right?

Well yes, you do, but not like this.

The problem is you have your character doing two things simultaneously − grabbing her bag and leaving. That’s a physical impossibility. She has to grab her bag before she leaves.

Of course, as with any rule, there are exceptions…

Staring out through the rain spattered window pane she sighed deeply.

It is physically possible to be looking out of a window and sighing. So this example is okay.

Independently Acting Body Parts.

His hand squeezed my knee. She huffs as she rolls her eyes. His tongue trailed a wet path up my inner thigh.

A lot of authors fall foul of this. Again, I think I corrected them all in Frost Trilogy and I’m very careful not to do this anymore − and really conscious of it when I read it. Although don’t be surprised if it slips through the net once or twice. No one’s perfect! LOL.

Body parts do not move by themselves. Your characters have to move them.

Yes, it’s fair to say a lot of readers don’t even notice when an author is guilty of this − or know that it’s something to be guilty of. And every reader knows it’s a figure of speech and your character isn’t literally rolling his/her eyes along the floor, but that’s the thing. It’s a figure of speech, not writing. So it could be argued, that along with not overly stressing about grammar, there’s no reason to worry about gerunds or IABPs either. It’s up to you whether to follow this advice or ignore it, but using them is not good writing and that’s what you want to write isn’t it?

* * *

Okay, so these are the big things to remember. You’re not going to overly stress about grammar, never have anyone snap, hiss, plead or complain, your characters will speak naturally and you’ll never start a sentence with a gerund or have body parts moving all by themselves. Now you know what not to do, get to work on what really matters − your story, and get writing that first draft.

Watch out for my later posts with advice on creating an un-put-downable (yes that’s a word LOL) story with characters readers will fall in love with and how to let the word know about its existence.

Terri x

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Source material for author quotes:

8-simple-writing-strategies-that-helped-stephen-king-sell-350-million-books

rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

rules-for-writing-fiction-part-two

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