Six things I learned before starting a novel

I want to get this down on digital paper before I become a world famous novelist. Maybe you’ll find it useful.

1. I didn’t start with a novel. I wrote 30,000 words of short stories with several different characters and different subplots before starting on the novel. Most of these plots became the first 3000 words of the novel, and set up enough loose ends to fill the rest.

2. It’s not just a tired old cliche. Abiding the old and wise show, don’t tell advice is easier if you close your eyes for a few minutes and run through the scene in your head.

3. You need to plan ahead. Plotting at least a chapter ahead helps a lot, even if you diverge from it while writing. I rarely get writer’s block once I run out of plot and start working on the next, and I think planning a chapter ahead is responsible.

4. Software is your friend. I give each chapter a branch on the root. Then each character’s trip though that chapter gets its own branch, even if they never appear. For example, if a character is investigating the assassination of the king, his plot will run alongside the character who’s escorting the prince to his coronation.

This helps me keep a handle on which character knows what at any given point. These can easily become another chapter with a different POV character.

5. People are people. Repeat after me: people are people. While looking for advice on writing fiction, I found reams of “How do I write a x character?” forum posts where x is gay, woman, child, or something else outside the writer’s experience. Start with a person, then modify their interactions with the world based on how that world treats their attributes.

Throw stereotypes out the window and find people who’ve shared their lived experiences, then find a way to make your gay/woman/child/whatever character interesting using those attributes. The world has had enough of effeminite gay men frollicking around a bunch of angry, burly strongmen getting ready to pummel him for offending their cliche sensibilities.

5a. You absolutely should seek out information on these experiences. A gay person in a fantasy world where homosexuality is normal and accepted will still have a different experience of the world. Knowing more about real people and what real people experience, both in the present and past, will help make your fiction more convincing.

6. Research isn’t just for accuracy. My novel’s world takes influences from: post-seclusion Japan, kitsune lore, the society and politics around world wars one and two, the industrialization of the United States, post-Charlemagne Europe, and whatever else I find interesting. Combine enough of what’s already happened in a clever enough way, and you can create something that’s entertaining while giving history and literature majors something to chew on.