Fiction Writing Tips

Here’s an important fiction writing tip for you: your first novel will probably be awful. That may seem like a harsh message for me to deliver, but the sooner you accept that I am 99% correct on this, the better off you’ll be.

Hey, why are you saying this about my novel? I can hear you saying. You don’t know me, Brandon–I’ve got talent to burn. Just you wait and see, I’m gonna give Stephen King a run for his money.

Really? I’ve got a newsflash for you: Stephen King wrote five manuscripts before he penned one that was good enough to publish.

It took King so long because when he wrote those first few books, he was still learning the fundamentals of the craft. Just as you, my friend, ought to do.

(All of us, even those of us with many books in print, are still learning. Anyone who says he knows everything there is to know about writing is either lying, or a fool.)

Approach your first novel as a learning experience, not as your surefire plan to become rich and famous. Don’t even think about hitting a bestseller list. (Well, dreaming about it is okay, but don’t get carried away.) The odds of you writing a bestseller your first time out of the gate are so astronomical that you’d be better off playing the lottery.

Instead, focus your time and efforts on learning the craft. View your first novel as a training ground, your opportunity to hone your ability to dramatize a story, bring characters to life, paint backgrounds, develop your prose, and the thousand other things you need to be able to do in order to write well.

And you must finish the manuscript. I can’t tell you how many people I meet who say they’ve had a book in progress for years. But guess what? No one cares about an unfinished story. Of all the lessons that are essential to your future as a fiction writer, learning how to finish what you’ve begun is one of the most critical.

Finishing a story requires perseverance, a dogged determination to gut it out and plow through it, even when–especially when–you feel it isn’t going well. When you’re depressed about the story, when you’re convinced that it’s garbage, resist the temptation to throw it away. Keep going, hammering away until you reach the end.

Back to Stephen King. When he was working on “Carrie,” his first published novel, he hit a rough spot and threw it in the trash. His wife came home, saw the book in the wastebasket, took it out, and started reading it. She liked what she read and encouraged him to finish.

He listened to his wife. “Carrie” went on to earn him a gigantic sum of money and was adapted into a successful film. The rest is history.

None of that would have happened if King had given up on the manuscript. So, finish it. Yes, it will probably be bad, because you are still learning the ropes, but that’s okay. You’ll know a lot more about novel writing than you did before.

But. . . let’s say that you think I’m wrong about the quality of your story and are convinced that it’s good. Should you try to get it published?

Sure, go ahead. You may be one of those exceedingly rare authors who can publish his/her maiden effort. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, you know?