The A to Z of novel writing – Fionnuala Kearney

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Want a guide to writing your novel, well look no further, as Fionnuala Kearney gives us her A to Z. ♥

A = Action

No lights, no cameras, just Action! You have to start writing. Anything, anything at all, just write. If this is your first time, be gentle on yourself. Start with a page, or a couple of hundred words. Write about your dog; your next-door neighbour’s irritating cough through the thin walls that divide you; ask yourself if rats are really responsible for the plague and write about that (or not) but Write. Write something. Act on the fact that you want to write.

B = Beta reader

So, let’s fast forward and assume you’ve written more than a page. You’ve maybe written, say, thirty thousand words of a novel, maybe even a whole novel? Or perhaps a short story or two. You really need to get someone you trust to read it. And I don’t mean your partner, or your teenager who’s keeping you sweet because they want to borrow the car, or your aunty Mabel who loves everything you do – I mean someone ideally ‘in the know’ and someone who’ll be honest with you about what they feel works or indeed doesn’t. A trusted reader or a trusted writer friend.

C = Character

As writers, we need interesting people even if they’re doing the most mundane daily life things that we all relate to. Avoid clichéd, stereotypical types and make your characters capable of moving the story you’re trying to tell forward. Try making character notes; answering lots and lots of questions about them before you ever put them in your novel. Or maybe try writing a short scene from their point of view in first person present tense. I find this a really useful tool to get me into those character’s heads.

D = Drafts

Allow yourself to write a sh*t first draft. Bash it out and let it be terrible. It is the bones of the story; it’s how the characters show themselves and interact with each other but it’s only the first draft. Depending on how you write, it may only need one or two re-writes, OR, see below ‘R’, if you’re like me, it’s usually draft five, six or seven that is nearing the end product.

E = Edit

Novels need editing. Your first draft will NOT be your last draft nor should it ever be.

F = Feeling the fear

It’s scary. One hundred thousand words is a LOT of words. Even though I’ve done it quite a few times, it scares me each time I start. And doing it that first time, biting the bullet, telling yourself to have faith is all about feeling the fear and then grabbing it by the cojones and… You Know. Do it. Scared is for scaredy-cats.

G = Go for it

Do not be put off by anything. Just gird your loins and go for it. You can have doubts, certainly, but you can’t entertain them for too long. GO. FOR. IT.

H = Hook

TDILY latestReaders need one. The publishers need one. And we writers have to give it to them in the first few pages before they yawn and start running their fingers along the spines of other books or scrolling through their ‘To Be Read’ list on their kindles. Hook them with something interesting, riveting and reel them in slowly.

I = Internet

At all costs the internet (unless used for specific legitimate research purposes) should be avoided. Step away from Facebook and Twitter!

J = Juggling

It’s HARD to make time to write when most of us have got children and other jobs to juggle. Sometimes it can feel almost selfish claiming that time as your own. It is, though, so worth it at the end. The sense of satisfaction you get when you finish and send that novel on its way with a kiss for luck is enormous…

K = ‘Killing Your Darlings’

Stephen King in his fabulous book ‘On Writing’ suggests that you ‘kill your darlings’; those precious bits of prose that though the words sound wonderful in your head, serve no purpose at all in the novel. Alas, they’re usually words and phrases that you actually remember writing and love. If they cannot justify being there, kill the little darlings. Dead.

L = Leap of Faith

When you’ve done it, typed THE END and you have a finished, polished manuscript in front of you; you’re proud, you’ve clapped yourself on the back and you’ve convinced yourself you’re not afraid – take a leap of faith. In yourself. You’ve worked hard and you’re happy with what you’ve produced. SEND IT OUT! No-one ever got a book deal by not seeking an agent and sharing what they’ve done.

M = Memories

Use yours. Pinch someone else’s. Memories can focus you and ground you in a sense of place. They can also help create a picture of interesting characters. If you’ve lived at all, you can probably write by pulling on many special things in your memory bank.
(M is also for moleskin notebooks, and music… Hard to choose with ‘M’)

N = Nonsense

You will write a lot of nonsense. It’s unavoidable. You’ll read back some of your prose and laugh out loud, wondering what you were smoking when you wrote that. Really.

O = Owning it

All of it, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. There’ll be moments of genuine pride when you think, ‘Hey I did that…’ Own it: celebrate it, savour it, wallow in it and buy yourself a small celebratory gift. And when it’s downright bad and ugly, own that too, then put it to one side and move on. We all write ugly sometimes and nothing is ever a waste of time.

P = Procrastination

A vital but dreadful part of any writer’s day. Facebook, Twitter, putting a wash on, making lists that mean nothing. All delaying tactics that detract from what we should really be doing #writing

Q = Query Letter

513ugO-FqeL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_There are some good examples of this available on the internet. It’s a given way to introduce yourself to an agent; sending them a letter, introducing yourself along with your idea for your novel. I have to confess I have never sent one, always preferring instead to send a synopsis and three chapters BUT each to his own and some agents like them.

R = Revisions and more revisions

Self-explanatory! I was once at a lyric writing course run by a famous lyricist who said “Songs are never written, they’re re-written, usually about seven times.” In my experience, it’s about the same for novels.

S = Scenes and Show Us

Avoid chunks of back-story and write in scenes. Imagine your character in a certain scene and ask, where, what, why? Where are they? (Show us, don’t tell us) What are they doing? (Show us, don’t tell us) And why are they there? (Again, rather than backstory, show us – through dialogue) Set the scene…

T = Theme

Theme is sort of like the argument you’re posing in the novel you’re writing, so all other stuff – story, scenes, plot, and characters should ideally help prove the argument. For example, if your theme is ‘Love is for losers’ then everything else should follow that lead. If your theme is that ‘Family is everything’ – same goes. Characters, plot etc. all there to prove your case.

U = Using your senses

Seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting. Use as many of the senses as possible in the scenes you write. If someone is sitting in a French café, tell us about the bitter taste of the coffee; about the scented bougainvillea growing nearby; about the ambulance passing in the distance.

V = Va va voom!
Tell us a story. Make it lively, passionate, and different through your characters and your writing.

W = Wine

A necessary evil during the writing process. Enough said.

X = X-ray vision

Get under the skin of the thing. Imagine the bones, the skeleton you can see to be the plot of the book. Build on the bones.

Y = Yes, Yes, Yes!

You are allowed, nay, encouraged, to do a re-enactment of THE scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ after you have typed the words ‘The End’.

Z = Zebra

“Waiter! There’s a zebra in my soup!”

If nothing else, that’s a good first line to get you going. ‘Z’ is just too difficult!

© Fionnuala Kearney 2016

Fionnuala Kearney lives in London with her husband. One of seven children, Fionnuala likes to write about the nuances and subtle layers of human relationships, peeling them away to see what’s really going on beneath. Her second novel The Day I Lost You is released today.

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