What I Learned While Writing My Fifth Novel

I recently completed the first draft of my fifth (unpublished) novel. The tentative title is The Intruders. Out of all of the long fiction I’ve written, I am happiest by far with how this one has turned out.

Not to say it’s a great book, but I can see the potential there for something that people will enjoy reading. Something that will hopefully hit them in a primal place and not let up. It’s in there for sure, but it is still a few drafts away.

Now that the basic story is complete and down on paper, I can look back on the experience of writing it. And I can see that I learned a lot. Maybe some of you have figured most of this out already, or maybe you haven’t. Either way, here is a quick list:

1) I found out what type of writer I am.

A discovery writer. Previously, whenever I sat down to write long fiction, I always had an outline ready. A chapter by chapter summary of what was going to happen, all the way through to the ending.

That’s no fun! For The Intruders, I had nothing planned. In fact, it was supposed to be a short story but once I got going I could see there was much more to it. By the time I was done it was full novel length. I didn’t plan anything out in advance, so it was like I was reading the book instead of writing it. Discovering what happened as it went on.

Which brings me to number 2.

2) Writing can be fun.

There were moments while writing that I was smiling because the events I was creating were so much fun to write. Or when some great twist or turn or scene just fell into place like a puzzle peice. It was so much fun to see that happen and to feel that momentum just build and build until the finale.

3) Stuff needs to happen!

Writing 101, right? Well, it took me a while to figure it out. Yes, my other long fiction had things happening, but the character’s never drove the action. And alot of the prose took place inside the character’s heads.

The Intruders has scenes. Scenes that the characters themselves initiate, and scenes that move the story forward.

4) Character is important

I used to write mostly for story. I liked ideas for tales, and whoever happened to get slotted in as the characters in those tales was secondary. But I can see now that the characters are just as important as what happens to them.

Mainly, because they should be driving the story forward. They should not be passengers as the story happens to them. When the plot moves forward, someone in the story should cause it to do so. And that someone should be a character that people want to read about.

5) I have a long way to go.

I am happy with The Intruders, but there are problems. It’s too short. One of the characters is pretty bad and needs better motivation. The opening chapter needs to be rewritten to have a stronger hook. I need to research some things that happen in the book because in real life they might not work. The events might be in the wrong order, depending on how you look at it.

In short, editing a novel is a little more involved than editing a short story. I can edit one of my short stories in twenty minutes just by reading it out loud with a red pen in hand. But that’s not going to work for this. There are too many moviing peices, and I want them all to work together like a well-oiled machine. But I’ll get there, and maybe some day soon this will be the first of my novels that I try to legitametly publish.

I know that I can do better and I look forward to applying all I learned to the next one. And learning even more when I write that one.

And then so on and so forth until the day I die.

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