by guest blogger Maya Rodale, author of smart and sassy romance novels
November is National Novel Writing Month and in honor of that, I thought I’d share my system (developed over the course of writing 10-plus books) for quickly producing a good novel without a ton of angst and anguish.
If cutting yourself off from the world (and Internet) at a five-star hotel with excellent room service is not an option, try the following:
- Know your characters. A novel won’t work without fully developed, compelling characters. Take the time to know the hero and heroines story before you start plotting or writing. You may never explicitly use this information in the text, but it will enhance your story.
- An outline is totally worth your time. I know, you want to start immediately and see where the muse leads you. Well, the muse is a trickster and may lead you down a dead end path. Or perhaps she’s using Apple Maps. With an outline, you know where you’re heading and have an idea of the route you’re going to take, which makes for a smoother journey. You can always take side trips.
- Draft #1: Focus on dialogue.
Estimate word count: 40,000
The first draft of my novels is entirely dialogue. This is the most direct way to make sure your characters are telling the story and moving it forward. Unless it’s a multicharacter scene, I won’t even include tags like “he said” or “she said.” If you can’t tell when your hero or heroine is talking without identifying it, then it’s a sign you need to go back and work on their character and voice.
- Draft #2: Crank out everything else.
Estimated word count: 65,000
This is another FAST draft full of description and everything else. It’s full of really awkward sentences and misplaced punctuation marks. I add lots of “TKs” (wherever something is “to come”) when I’m not sure of a word but just want to keep going.
- Print, read, make notes. Print out a copy and read it with a pen in hand. You’re not just looking for typos or ways to tighten your sentences, but also trying to figure out how the story hangs together before you write so many words that it’s a nightmare to relocate scenes. Likewise, it’s far easier on the soul to cut fluffy, useless scenes when you haven’t invested much time in them.
- Draft 3: Craft.
Word count: 80,000
This is where it starts to get good. You’ve cut the rubbish scenes, sketched out some new ones. I go over each scene, line by line, really crafting my sentences by cutting useless words and selecting the very best ones to use. This is slow going, but it’s where the magic happens.
- Draft 4: Give it to someone to read and do something else.
Find someone willing to read your manuscript with fresh eyes while you allow your eyes to rest by working on something else entirely. I like to get a few people to read it, if I can. And then I do not revise until I’ve gotten everyone’s feedback. If three out of three people say your first chapter is weak, it is. If one person says your heroine is vapid, one person loves her, and another commented on something else…well, that’s a muddle to sort though and it’s up to you.
- Revise. Again.
- Revise. Again.
- Send it off into the world. After spending years in the writing world, I suspect that this is the step where most authors fail. This is what separates the published from the unpublished. I think there are many excellent books tucked under beds…but you’re not competing with those. You’re competing with the ones composed by brave authors.
PS: Have more questions about writing and/or the romance genre? I’ll be speaking about just that at my favorite indie bookstore, WORD BROOKLYN, on Thursday November 8th at 7:00 p.m., as well as signing copies of my new release, Seducing Mr. Knightly. View my event listings for more details.
Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master’s degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Her latest book isSeducing Mr. Knightly. Learn more at mayarodale.com