Category Archives: Writing techniques

Fiction Secrets: 5 Tips To Write A Novella Fast

Fiction Secrets: 5 Tips To Write A Novella Fast

In our Advanced Fiction class we’re writing novellas. It’s fun to write a novella, because you can finish your story quickly and get it published

You may be wondering… what’s a novella?

Novellas are short fiction. Novellas are too long to be short stories, and too short to be novels. So they’re an ideal length for today’s readers who want stories they can read quickly.

I think of novellas as overgrown short stories, and write them at anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 words.

Write a novella, and sell it — fast

Did you know that when you write a novella, you can make as much income as you can writing a novel?

I asked a couple of self-publishing authors who specialize in short fiction how they priced their novellas — did they price them lower than novels? Both said that they invariably priced their novellas at either $2.99 or $3.99. They added some of their novellas to KDP Select, some they didn’t.

What you do with your novellas will vary according to what you want them to achieve for you.

For example, if you’re writing a series, you could write a novella as a lead-in to the series, and price it at 99 cents. The hope is that you’ll get readers hooked on the series.

Now let’s look at some tips to help you to write novellas confidently.

1. Start with the story question: what’s at stake?

The story question is also known as the narrative drive; it’s what powers the novella.

I talked about narrative drive here:

What will the surgeon do? Will she choose her family, or the prime minister? Who will live, and who will die? That’s the story question. It powers the narrative — it’s the narrative drive.

The story question is the point of the story; in a mystery, will the sleuth unmask the killer, in a thriller, will the hero overcome the terrorists and save thousands of lives?

Bryn Donovan has some plotting ideas from classic novels here; it’s a great list, and will get you thinking in terms of the story question.

2. Create characters, but keep your cast small

When you’re writing a novella, keep the cast of characters small. You haven’t the space for a tribe.

On the other hand, if you’re writing a novella as a prequel to a series of novels, you may add in a couple of characters you don’t strictly need, because they’ll make an appearance in your series.

3. What’s the climax?

What does your point of view (POV) character fear most? Once you know that, you know that this greatest fear will play out in the climax of the novella. You’ll torture your character by making him face what he most fears.

A student asked whether you need a climax in a novella. Some authors feel that you don’t. Other authors end on a cliffhanger, so that the reader will buy another book which carries on the story.

I like to include a climax, and I never end on a cliffhanger. I like my novellas to be a complete emotional experience for readers. That said, it depends on your own needs, as well as the genre.

For example, let’s say that you’re writing a mystery series. The series has an overall mystery, which won’t be resolved until the final book, although each book contains a complete mystery, which is resolved in the climax. Each book in the series adds more clues to the “big” mystery of the series.

Let’ say that you want to write a novella to promote your series. Of course you won’t resolve the overall series’ mystery, but you will resolve a complete mystery for readers.

Please don’t get too hung up over what to do, climax or no-climax. Your story will usually tell you what’s needed once you’ve written a few thousand words.

4. Write your first draft quickly, in scenes and dialogue

I like to write the dialogue in scenes first. The dialogue is usually the action of the scene. Writing that first gets it out of the way. Then you can focus on underpainting your scene.

5. Add your “underpainting”: character motivations, thoughts etc.

When you’ve written a scene, mostly in dialogue, go back and add stuff. I call this process adding bits of business to the scene; bestselling Outlander author Diana Gabaldon calls the technique “underpainting”. Great word:

… the technique involves a good deal of body language and inconsequential small actions. The reader is conscious of the main thrust of a paragraph, page or scene; the spoken dialogue, the main actions. Subconsciously, underpainting brings the scene alive in the mind’s eye.

In underpainting, you’re putting in whatever the scene needs. You add the viewpoint character’s thoughts, actions of other characters in the scene, the time of day and weather if it’s relevant… Anything and everything which fleshes out the scene.

Of course, in a novella you add less of this than you’d add in a full-length novel.

So, there you have it: some tips to help you to write a novella. Let me know know if they work for you. 🙂

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

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Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters. More info →
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Writing Fiction And Mindset: 3 Easy Tips To Tell Great Stories

Writing Fiction And Mindset: 3 Easy Tips To Tell Great Stories

Are you new to writing fiction? It can be a challenging process. Last week, I created a class for my students to demystify fiction. They’d managed to become so involved with techniques, genres, and marketing that they were writing little. They definitely weren’t enjoying their writing.

A couple of new authors said that they struggled to complete their novels. They ended up with thousands of words which went nowhere.

Here are some tips from the class; the class focused on mindset and imagination.

Writing fiction is a state of mind: free your imagination

The biggest challenge for new authors is finding a way to free their imagination. In today’s entertainment world, we allow others to guide our imagination via TV shows and movies.

We forget how to release our own imagination. My theory is that this accounts for the popularity of fan fiction. Writers kickstart their imagination with other authors’ characters and plots.

While there’s nothing wrong with that — E.L. James parlayed her love of Twilight into the uber-successful 50 Shades of Grey series — using your own imagination is more fun. And usually, more profitable. If you manage to create a memorable character, like Harry Potter, you’ve made your fortune.

Let’s look at some tips to help you to tell great stories.

1. Remember that fiction is stories which have a plot, and meaning

To outline or not to outline?

Much as I love pantsing short stories and novels, there are challenges if you’re new to writing fiction. You can end up with a story which isn’t a story at all. Or, you can end up with a mishmash: trying to cram three or five stories into one.

Neither is satisfying.

The biggest clue that you don’t have a story is that you can’t create a blurb (description). FWIW, here’s a definition of STORY: an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. However, a story needs a plot: it has to mean something. Stringing meaningless events together irritates readers: they want meaning.

We need meaning in our fictional worlds. Unlike daily life, fiction needs to make sense.

Here’s an example of a “story” which isn’t a story. It has no plot and no decipherable meaning. An author sets out to write a mystery novel. He has a sleuth, and a dead body. The sleuth gets sidetracked into another crime. And another. His teenage daughter’s romantic challenges take up five chapters, and then… By this time, the readers that get that far (still hoping against hope that there’s a plot, coming real soon now) give up.

Not sure about plot? In your novel, or short story, something happens to a character. He has a problem, preferably one of life or death. The story’s plot is your character resolving the problem. Once the problem’s resolved (boy gets girl, sleuth gets criminal, spy saves the world) your story is OVER.

I occasionally suggest to my students that their fiction’s story is ONE thing, basically, not endless things which are never resolved.

2. Follow the emotion: what scares you? What do you love?

Have you ever had a nightmare? You wake up, suddenly wide awake as if you’re still in the dream… It takes a while for you to reassure yourself that you’re OK.

Powerful dreams have one thing in common with fiction: emotion.

Readers read for emotion.

There are many ways you can inspire emotion in your readers. Few have anything to do with events, such as serial killers’ blood and gore (thrillers, fantasy), or bodies doing things to each other in romance fiction.

You can use tone, word choice, characters’ thoughts…

Consider the opening paragraphs of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The first sentence is:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

(You can read the paragraphs via Amazon’s Look Inside feature.)

Consider the words du Maurier uses in those first paragraphs: padlock and chain; forlorn; supernatural powers; (nature’s) stealthy insidious way…

Those first paragraphs are a masterclass in using words to evoke emotion. With those evocative words, du Maurier sets the tone for the book — and she maintains it. Nothing much happens in Rebecca, but the emotions keep you turning pages.

Read du Maurier’s paragraphs, and if you haven’t read Rebecca, read that too, it’s a classic novel for a reason. Your local library will have it.

All competent authors know how to evoke emotion in readers. It’s a skill you can develop quite easily with a little study and practice.

3. Forget the words, tell the story

Which brings us to another challenge.

Words are important in fiction, definitely… BUT you need a story. Something needs to happen, and that something needs to have meaning.

Your story (what happens, to whom, how it happens, and why it happens) is more important than anything else in commercial fiction.

In your first draft, forget the words. Just tell the story. Tell yourself what happens. In later drafts, once you know what your story is, and what your story means, you’ll know what emotions you want to inspire in your readers. Then you can play with words as much as you like, because you know the effect you want to have on readers.

In fiction, your story (with its plot) is what counts

Get comfortable with your imagination.

Look on your imagination as waking dreams. Write the stories — and the emotions — your imagination presents to you — and have fun. 🙂

Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

eBook: $5.99
Series: Romance Writing, Book 1
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
Love makes the world go round, and of all the genres in fiction, romance, with its many sub-genres, is the most popular. More info →
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Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly. More info →
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Writing Motivation: How To Manage Failure

Writing Motivation: How To Manage Failure

Want some writing motivation? If you do, consider this: you can’t fail. It’s true. It’s also true that your book may not sell, but that’s not something you can control. You definitely CAN control your motivation, provided that you build it into your writing process.

Let’s look at how to do that.

Writing motivation is a process — learn it, or rejection and failure may become permanent

Back in the day, before the self-publishing revolution, authors asked me how to “avoid rejection.” My favorite answer to that was: “never send your work anywhere.”

Rejection is a fact of life. You may fail. It happens.

Rejection looks different today if you’re a self-publisher. Instead of a literary agent or an editor telling you: “not for us at this time,” readers get to tell you that when they don’t buy your book. 🙂

Reality: you CANNOT control the marketplace. Any publishing career involves luck.

But you can control yourself, so that failures just become speed humps on your route to success.

I’ve seen many wonderful authors who allowed failure to crush them into depression; some never wrote another word, as far as I know.

Failure isn’t forever, unless you allow it to be. Failure can be like a punch in the face. You need to punch back.

Everyone fails: punch back

From Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

(You may say) “It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’

No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present not fearful of the future.’

Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it?”

Built-in writing motivation: develop your own process

In any writing venture, whether you’re writing books, or blogging, or copywriting, you’ll experience failure in one form or another. In your early years, you’ll experience more failure than successes. You need to learn how to manage both. Failure needn’t crush you, and success needn’t distract you, as long as you create a process which guarantees your writing motivation.

I first developed my “motivation” process some 30 years ago. In those days, there were few markets for writing, and even fewer paying markets. Once I discovered copywriting, I experienced much less failure, because I was choosing my own clients.

Little failures can crush you just as big failures can. When I was writing my first novel, I sent the manuscript winging to London via airmail. Then my editor’s response arrived. Some four pages of notes and editorial queries. In short order I was angry, then depressed. I didn’t write. From memory, I sulked for a couple of weeks.

That was a waste of time — and in response to something that wasn’t even “failure”. It took time to motivate myself again. All I had to do was spend a couple of days tinkering with the manuscript, so why the drama?

In a word: ego. I lost perspective.

Confidence builds over time. Sooner or later, you’ll become much more confident, and it will take much more to crush you.

A few years later, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about things I couldn’t control, as long as I had a process. I could control my process, and my process built my motivation.

Experience success, every day

My process was simple. Today, it’s pretty much what it was then: write a thousand salable words a day. Even on my worst day, when everything goes wrong, I can manage 1,000 words. In practice, I write more than that each day, but with my thousand words done, as early in the day as possible, my day is a success.

When something goes wrong: a client’s website goes down, or a book makes fewer sales than expected, or something else happens, my writing motivation is still strong. My 1,000 words give me a little reward each day, and put everything else into perspective.

Create your own process, and build your writing motivation each day.

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Just Write It: Write More, Sell More, Starting Today

Just Write It: Write More, Sell More, Starting Today

Do you dream of being a professional writer? This book will help. Perhaps you already have a writing career, but feel that you're not living up to your potential, this book will help you, too. More info →
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