The Art of (Bad) Novel Writing

Monday, November 7, 2011

This was originally a guest post on First Novels Club in August of 2009. I know, ancient history! In internet time, that's like when dinosaurs were roaming the earth. Enjoy the totally unaltered goodness of 15-year-old Steph's novelling advice. Oh, young Steph, you crazy kid. I promise to give you some brand! new! content! from old, wise 17-year-old Steph shortly.
Oh and good luck with NaNoWriMo, writerly folks.
I’m writing this in a Word document. I’m hitting the recount button with each word I type. Okay, I’m up to 23 words including the title. Now I’m up to 32! How long should this guest post be? I’ve never written a guest post before. I wonder where I’m going to go with this guest post. Recount. Yay! 63 words!

That previous paragraph is both an example of the fact that I’m a bit of an idiot (an idiot with an excuse, I’m a teenager, okay?) and also a lot like me writing my first novel when I was seven.

Have I lost you already? It’s okay, I’ve lost myself as well. I’m going to go looking for myself. If I come back before I return, can you hold on to me and make sure I don’t wander off again?

That first novel I wrote when I was seven didn’t progress past the first chapter. An eventful first chapter – wherein the heroine, Rose Merryhem, moved into a new house, rode an escalator to heaven, met some kind of archangel, went to the beach with a woman called Tabitha and ate some cornflakes – but only one chapter all the same. I’m a bit of an expert at crappy novels.

I’m also a bit of an expert at zombie movies, procrastinating and veering way off topic, but that’s entirely not the right stuff for this informative guest post, which, after reading, you will be able to very successfully complete a crappy novel which will then live under your bed for the next ten to fifteen years.

This is where I stop rambling and start informing:To write a bad novel, you have to sit down and write. You have to pump out the number of words you think there should be in a novel. You write and write and write. Make sure that the tense jumps around and there’s no specific plot.

And if you want your book to be really terrible, make sure you never ever edit it! Editing will improve your novel! You want a bad novel, remember?

Writing a bad novel is easy. Writing a good novel is hard. The first draft is only a tiny little bit of the work involved.

But here’s the thing:It’s okay to write a bad novel. The only way to improve your writing is to write and write and write and write.

A novel will never be great after you’ve written the first draft. In fact, the first draft of your first novel will inevitably be pretty bad, unless you’re some kind of super freak who can write awesome books in one go, in which case I shall kidnap you and hold you hostage, forcing you to write novels for me at gunpoint.

I don’t have a gun, so you can sleep easy for the time being, but the point is that once your writing is good, for it to become great, you’re going to have to learn to edit. You’re going to have to hack your manuscript to pieces and then tape it together. You’re going to have to obliterate entire scenes if they’re not necessary to the plot or character development.

It’s going to be really hard, because you love your characters. Or at least you should, since I do, and I don’t want to be crazy for loving my characters, so you oughta love yours. But this painful process is necessary if you’re going to make your book the best it can possibly be. It will be slow and painful, but it’s also going to be worth it in the end.

You have to let other people read your work and accept their honest opinions to help you improve your work. Other writers, preferably. The wonderful ladies of First Novels Club obviously have the right idea!

And of course, you should read and read and read. Be familiar with the genre you’re writing for.

But wait, what happened here? I was meant to tell you how to write a bad novel.

The problem is, I think my writing is starting to venture into the ‘okay novel’ territory. Not quite publishable yet, but I’m reading and writing and revising and submitting. People read my work and give me honest appraisals of it, and every time someone says, ‘Hey, this could be better if you…’ I’m not immediately thinking they’re insulting my literary genius. I’m learning.

That ‘bad novel’ thing? You might have to ask somebody else.
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