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by Lee Masterson

There is so much information circulating on the Internet about the right (or wrong) way to write a novel. How much time do you spend reading through all the rules?

Are you wondering if you need to pay good money for yet another course that promises to give you all the success secrets just in case you’re missing out on that vital piece of information or hidden rule that you really need to finish your novel?

It’s no wonder many writers feel inundated.

Think about it. It must be intimidating for some writers to sit down at the computer and contemplate writing when they have to remember to include great characterization tips, plotting and structure, novel theme, premise and concept and then try to incorporate narrative and exposition. All of these rules bombard them before they’ve even written one word of story.

On top of all these concepts already tumbling around in the memory banks, writers are also encouraged to remember that dialogue needs to uncover your character’s personality and childhood traumas at the same time as revealing motives as well as moving the plot forward.

In amongst all these rules and regulations, writers are also expected to tell a brilliantly woven tale that needs to include drama, conflict, tension and a great climactic scene before the big resolution wrap up.

During the writing process, so many writers worry about the manuscript’s format and attracting an agent. Then there’s the decision to submit to traditional publishers or self-publish.

Just stop for a moment. It’s all become far too hard.

Let’s get right back down to basics. Writing a novel is about story telling. Readers buy books to enjoy a good story. So let’s work on story-telling.

There are three simple lessons you need in order to complete your story-telling education. Everything else is incidental.

Are you ready for them?

Storytelling Lesson #1 – Read.

Read. The more you read, the more your own writing style will improve. You’ll begin to notice how the authors you enjoy put together sentences and dialogue. You should notice how and when characters do the things they do that you either loved or hated. You’ll start recognizing when something is boring or when you simply can’t put a book down.

You could elucidate that the spectacularly, amazingly written tome you recently completed perusing sounded rather overly pretentious in an effort to reverberate strongly within the reader’s consciousness and display the brilliant intelligence of the author, albeit making sure every sentence is incredibly long and awkward.

Or you could notice that well-chosen nouns have more power over adjectives for getting your point across. Simple words are best to showcase your story. Short sentences have impact.

Don’t just stick to reading your favorite writer’s books. Read different authors and different styles and learn a bit about what makes the story interesting to you. Re-read old favorites you enjoyed and attempt to read books you put down out of boredom.

Your writing will benefit from reading stories told by other authors.

Storytelling Lesson #2 – Be Your Unique Self

Just follow what I did. After all, that’s how I ended up a major success with books on the New York Times best-seller list with Hollywood agents and producers chasing me for screenplays”.

Have you just finished reading a set of instructional writing tips where the person writing has told you how brilliant they are and how wonderful their own career is – and then expects you to follow everything they just did?

Every writer is a unique human being with a very different story to tell. Even if you think your plot sounds a little like someone else’s, the words you choose to tell your tale will be your own. Nobody else can ever write those but you.

There’s no point trying to follow the steps someone else took to reach their particular level of success. You don’t know how many people they stepped on along the way, how many friends they lost or how unscrupulous they had to be to get there. You don’t know what dirty lengths they went to in order to pester and annoy some of those agents or editors or producers just to notice their name.

Are those things you want to copy for your writing career too?

In fact, you don’t even know if they’re telling you the whole truth about their success. Would a massively successful Hollywood scriptwriter and novelist be teaching classes online or would they be way too busy writing even more really successful screenplays and novels? Are they giving you the whole facts about who they really are and what they did to get there? Do you even know their real age?

Trying to follow someone else’s footsteps means you’re denying your own unique story. You got to the point you’re at today by making your own choices and living your own life. You have experiences in your memories that no one else on this planet has. You’re unique. You never need to follow or copy anyone else to be you.

Do things your way. Work on what feels right for you. Write the story inside you that only you can write.

Storytelling Lesson #3 - Tell your story

Sit down at your computer. Open a new word-processing document and tell your story.

Don’t allow details and scenery to distract you from the story you want to tell. Readers don’t read novels to go sight-seeing. Readers don’t really care what your heroine is wearing or what precise shade of honey-flaxen silk her hair might look like.

They read novels in order to enjoy a story.

Have you ever read a novel and realized that you’ve been skipping past chunks of narrative or descriptive passages? Your eyes scan down the page looking for where the story picks up again.

When you read, you want to know what happens next. If the author’s done a good job, the characters are showing you what’s happening as they’re going through the story’s events, rather than the writer telling you what to see and feel.

Now read through your own manuscript again. As the author, you’ll read through those chunks of narrative because you wrote them. Yet you won’t read another author’s big blocks of description.

Do you think your readers will do the same thing? They’re likely to skip right past anything that stops the story for them, just like you do. Or worse – they’ll close the book and maybe never pick it up again.

Sit down and write your story. Forget about the rules while you’re writing and enjoy being a storyteller.

After your story is told it’s time to learn a bit about self-editing – but that’s another article.

Copyright Lee Masterson


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    Novel Writing tips for fiction writers