You want to write a novel. You hope that it will sell well; that it will become a bestseller. I just checked, and the first five books on The New York Times Hardcover Fiction bestsellers’ list this week are all genre fiction: thrillers and crime fiction. These books, as do all books on bestseller lists, include a vital ingredient.
That ingredient is: drama.
Write a novel with drama
To write a novel which sells well, remember DRAMA while you write. Drama keeps readers reading.
Many books which are dramatic are quiet books; they don’t feature billion dollar bank heists and explosions. Pride and Prejudice, for example, which has been selling for 200 years, is a charming novel set primarily in a village in rural England.
So how do you add drama to your novel?
How to write a dramatic novel: write in scenes
Start with these elements:
A character with a problem he’s determined to solve
A story question
The story question is sometimes referred to as the “dramatic question”, which is misleading. To write a bestselling novel, you need drama on every page.
Check your novel now, and if you’ve written 250 words in which nothing much happens, correct that immediately — add some drama, every if it’s just a little bantering between two characters.
4 tips for writing dramatically
As we’ve said, drama needs to happen on every page of your novel. There are many ways you can do that. These tips will get you thinking.
No one gets along. Every character in your novel has conflicts with other characters, or has internal conflicts.
Description is used to reveal character. Again, consider Pride and Prejudice. When Jane Austen describes anything, she does it so that we can learn more about a character. For example, from Chapter 7: “The village of Longbourn was only one mile from Meryton; a most convenient distance for the young ladies, who were usually tempted thither three or four times a week, to pay their duty to their aunt and to a milliner’s shop just over the way.”
Focus on scenes. Jane Austen writes in scenes — this may be why she’s sold 20 million copies of Pride and Prejudice — it’s a very dramatic novel.
You answer the story question, as well many many other questions which you raise along the way by creating open loops.
You’re an indie author, and you’re sinking in a swirling stream of doubts and anxieties. Are you wasting your time? What if your new book won’t sell?
Every author has doubts. Some authors are continually anxious, and there’s a good reason. Research shows that creative people are more susceptible to anxiety than others; the upsetting emotions are just the way your brain works.
Several months ago a friend told me that she was giving up writing. She hated her current novel; she said it was a mess. She was in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. Her writing was another source of stress, so she was cutting it out of her life.
I made commiserating comments and silently made a small bet with myself — I was convinced that she would be writing again within six months.
You’re an indie author: kudos to you!
It took three months. She rang me last week. “I’m working on a new novel. I’m not giving up on the one I was stuck on, I’m revising — I’ve got some good ideas of where I want to go with the revision.”
When there are other things happening in your life, the stress of writing seems too much, so you give it up. That doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, or that you’ll give up writing forever. It just means that you’ve put your creativity on hold for a time. It will return.
Now let’s look at the tips, but do remember that as an indie author, you deserve kudos. You’re doing something that takes courage, faith, and trust in yourself, and at times, finding those things is hard.
1. Anxiety and doubt are normal: expect and accept
As we’ve said, anxiety is normal for creative people. I’ve often told the story of what happened when I got my first book contract from MacDonald Futura. Every morning when I sat down at my IBM Selectric typewriter to work on my novel tears streamed down my face. I was beyond anxious, but I wrote anyway.
I thought that there was something horribly wrong with me; obviously I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Years later, I learned that my emotions were completely normal.
The solution to dealing with them was simple: I learned that I needed to expect to be uncomfortable for ten minutes or so when I started writing.
You can accept the discomfort and write anyway. Within a short time, the discomfort will fade. Until the next time you sit down to write.
Over the years, my discomfort when I sit down to write has almost completely vanished. I need to look hard for it, but a tiny fluttering of anxiety is still there. I ignore it; I’ve learned to expect it, and to realize that that’s just the way our creativity works.
2. Write down what you’re feeling: you’ll feel better
Occasionally, you can’twrite. The anxiety is too much. You’ll do anything rather than sit down at your computer. One writer I know painted his house, inside and outside, to avoid writing. Another took up sky-diving.
There’s a simpler way.
When you can’t write, take a pen and paper (this process seems to work better if you write by hand), and write down what you’re feeling. Write for ten minutes.
You may need to repeat this exercise every time you sit down to write for a week or two. Eventually, you will have made all your unconscious doubts and fears visible. You’ve unmasked the terrors and tamed them, so they’ll lose their power over you.
3. Meditate: ten minutes a day puts you in control
If meditation sounds a little too trendy for you, give it a chance. Meditation has been used for thousands of years because it’s powerful. I first started meditating in the 1970s. Although I may not meditate for months, when I start to feel anxious, I start meditating again.
Ten minutes a day will make all the difference. Here’s a simple meditation from Tara Brach that’s both a wonderful introduction to meditation, and an easy meditation you can do every day once you learn the body-scan process.
An indie author strategy: when you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break
Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? You’ll know if you are.
Slow down. Review your deadlines, and give yourself a little breathing space. I give myself one day a week when I take a break from writing fiction. On that day, I blog, and I work on nonfiction, so I’m still writing — over the years, writing has become my default setting. It’s just what I do.
Writing fiction can be more anxiety-making than writing nonfiction; you’re working with your imagination. This creativity leads to anxiety, so take a break occasionally. You may find as I do, that your little breaks are helpful. After a break, you’ll write more easily, rather than struggling to find words.
Doubts and anxiety are the price you pay for being an indie author. They do fade over time. You can handle it. 🙂
“How do I know that I’m doing it right?” This concern underlies every question my writing students ask about self-publishing. I respond with a variation of “if you published your book, you did it right. Fix it later if there’s a problem.”
It might be useful to share a VERY simple process I’ve developed over many years of writing books; I teach it to my students.
Firstly however let’s look at the biggest challenge facing self-publishing authors.
Self-publishing today: your biggest challenge is YOU
Sadly, you’re your own worst enemy.
We all are. I’m not immune — I find new ways to torture myself and procrastinate each and every week. I tell myself about things I “must” do, but most of these “musts” are simply new ways to procrastinate.
We all have 24 hours in each day. Depending on how long you’ve been writing, it may take you between an hour and two hours to write a thousand words. But a thousand words of new content every day might not be possible for you. Perhaps you can only manage 500 words, or 200 words. That’s OK.
Set a word count goal for yourself. Keep the count low. You should be able to achieve this goal even on your worst and busiest day.
Self-publishing in six steps
Here’s the process.
1. Get an idea, write a blurb (description)
As soon as you get an idea for a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, write down your idea. Expand on the idea to 300 words. Look on this description as a mini-outline. It stops you wandering off-track later, once you start writing.
You may or may not use parts of this initial blurb later, when you publish.
2. Expand on the blurb: create a quick list outline (or two characters for fiction)
Without thinking about it too much, spend five minutes writing a list of what you intend to cover in the book if you’re writing nonfiction.
Writing fiction? Create two characters — just a job, and an attribute:
Bored accountant — for the mob;
Self-confident female surgeon.
You’ll find that the job plus attribute quick character-creation process sparks ideas. I had no idea that the “bored accountant” would be working for criminals, that just sprang to mind.
3. Write, while developing a more extensive outline
Start writing. When I write fiction, I focus on the major scenes; I want to know what these big scenes will be by the time I’ve written 10,000 words.
With nonfiction, avoid doing research until you know the slant/ angle you’re taking on your topic.
4. Create a title, order a book cover, research keywords, start marketing
Do these basic self-publishing chores as soon as you can. However, avoid letting any of them cut into your writing time.
Tip: use premade covers unless you’re writing a series. (They’re cheaper.) When writing a series, get good covers, and make sure that the covers will identify your series instantly, at a glance.
4. Revise: re-vision — promises kept?
Your biggest challenge is ensuring that your completed book lives up to the promise of your blurb.
For example, let’s say you’re aiming for a Lee Childs/ Jack Reacher suspense novel. Read what you’ve written. Did you achieve that goal? If not, start revising. 🙂
With nonfiction, have you differentiated your book? Does it serve its audience? If you’ve written a “me too” clone of other books on the topic, revise.
5. Send to beta readers: edit, and edit again
Once your revision is done, and you’ve done some light editing, whip the book off to your favorite beta readers. While you’re waiting for them to get back to you, start your next book.
Then take your betas’ comments on board, and edit. Twice.
Edit once to ensure that there are no boring bits. The second edit is to make sure that there are no stupid bits. Fact-check yourself.
Do a final proof, and…
6. Publish it — ready or not
Upload it to Amazon. Going wide? Upload your book to the other major book retailers as well.
Start your next book while you’re revising/ editing etc your current book
Write your next book, following the same process, while your current book’s being edited.
Here’s why you need to do this.
If you’re enthusiastic about the book you’re currently writing, you won’t be overwhelmed by comments from your betas — or by your editor, if you’re going the traditional publishing route.
In your first few years as an author, even the kindest comments can throw you off track. Aim to be so engrossed in your new book that you’re insouciant about the book being edited. Eventually your “it’s done, I don’t care” attitude will be real.
Use this simple self-publishing process. Keep moving forward, and have fun with it. 🙂
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels. More info →