Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 52: Keep The Momentum Going

Welcome to the final week of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Work on ideas and strategies for your next book or project.
Breaking it down

Take a break
Now that we’ve finished our novels, it’s time to celebrate – and forget about the book.

Yes, that’s right. Put it away for as long as you can – so that you can focus on your next project. The worst thing you can do is edit obsessively and re-read your book. You need some breathing space.

For me, I’ve been playing around with ideas that are radically different from the novel I’ve just finished. And perhaps that is a good word to use – ‘play.’ Writing a book is hard work.  It can be mentally exhausting, so you need to rest.

Creativity demands playfulness. Now is the time to doodle, to draw, to explore without any real goal in mind.  This is the only way you can find a fresh spark. It’s a great way to keep the momentum going.

Immerse yourself in story
Now is a great time to catch up on all the reading you’ve missed. I’m excited to get back into reading my favourite authors – I already have a pile that I’m eager to plunge into.

After I finished my book, I realised my novel – a story about stalking – draws a lot from movies I love that explore this theme, like Fatal Attraction, Play Misty For Me, and even Cape Fear. I don’t think this a bad thing. My book is very different to all these – but in a way, I’ve been paying homage to the stories that came before.

My point is that you can’t write, you can’t create, you can’t explore your own imagination, if you don’t read a lot of fiction and don’t watch entertaining movies.

Build your imagination room
I believe creativity is all around us, you just need to know where to look for it. But how do you pin it down?

For me, I’ve created something called the imagination room. It’s a magical place I can access when I close my eyes.  It has everything I need to find and nurture my creativity.

For example, it has beautiful old filing cabinets — where every memory or idea I’ve ever had is stored and I can retrieve it, if I just stay calm and know what I’m looking for. So I can say, ‘What memories do I have about summer?’  If I stay in the room long enough, those memories will return to me. I can capture them. I can write them down.

This room also has a magical telephone, where I can phone any of my great mentors and artists who inspired me.  I can call up Shakespeare and ask him, ‘What do you think makes a great revenge story?’ If I listen, I can get some ideas. It sounds crazy, I know, but it works.

And then there is ship’s wheel – like you would find on a galleon or pirate ship – and a magical compass. If I stand behind this wheel, it can take me anywhere in time or history.

I can visit Kenya in the 40s, or go to New York in the present day. I try to capture what these places would be like with my senses – touch, taste, smell.  Finding places in my mind that excite will lead me to the right research materials.

You can create your imagination room. It doesn’t have to be a room. It can be a bewitched tree, or a robot, anything you like. The idea to have something you can visualise, a place where your imagination lives.

Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Spend a half hour of full hour every day exploring your creativity.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. List 10 crazy ideas for a story each day. Make them as improbable or absurd as you can.
  2. Do something creative every day – even if it’s gardening, making up a new game with your kids, painting an old chair.
  3. Listen to inspiring podcasts on writing and creativity, or find some inspirational videos on YouTube. TEDTalks are a great resource.
  4. Reconnect with your journal.
  5. Draw a floor plan or blue print for your imagination room.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘I oscillate between thinking I’m crazy and thinking I’m not crazy enough.’ — Joyce Carol Oates

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 51: Finding Your Identity And Power As A Novelist
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 50: Building Your Brand As An Author
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 49: Why Writing ‘The End’ Is Not Goodbye (Yet)

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 51: Finding Your Identity And Power As A Novelist

Welcome to week 51 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. A bit more work on brand building
Breaking it down

Back to basics
Last week, we spoke a bit about your author brand. This week, I’d like to explore that a bit further.

A brand is the emotional relationship you have with your readers. As a writer, the more primal you can make this, the stronger the psychological bond will be with your audience.

Your brand is your identity as a writer and how that identity finds its way into every single one of your novels. If you want to make a career as a novelist, having a defined brand is one way to ensure you have longevity or ‘legs’ as a writer.

Someone like Nicholas Sparks has a strong author brand. You always know what you’re going to get with this author – powerful love stories, inspirational characters, and an emotionally involving story.

On the other hand, think of another iconic author like Bret Easton Ellis on the polar opposite of Nicholas Sparks – hip, nihilistic and violent stories told in a cool detached voice. Both have powerful brands.

There must be a personality, a strategy and, most important, a consistency and commonality to your brand. It’s the only way to stand out – and stay – in the market.

A single image, a powerful idea
Al Ries, a PR guru, writes that, ‘A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect.’  This is a good place to focus on your brand.

When you’re writing a novel, you often have an image or symbol that captures the theme or plot of the story. You can do the same for developing your brand. If you had to boil it down to just one image – what would it be?

For example, if you’re a writer of modern romance, you could have an image of a striking silhouette of a couple looking over a glittering city.  If you’re going for historical action and adventure, for example, you could perhaps see an embellished Viking cross as your symbol.

And then, as a next step, you can create a brand pay-off line. A unique and powerful sentence that captures who you are and what you write about.

If we go back to the writer of modern romance, your pay-off line could be, ‘Real characters, real passion – real love stories for lovers of contemporary romance.’ And for the historical writer, it could be, ‘Discover the bloodiest, bravest, boldest heroes of the Viking era.’ OK, not great – but you get the idea.

Be real
I don’t think you can fake or manufacture a brand identity.  Authenticity is key – because readers will know if you’re an imitator, they will know if you write your books from an honest place or not. The truth is you can only be yourself in your writing and your life.

I believe there’s true power in knowing yourself, of knowing your faults, your dreams, your aspiration … in fact, everything that makes you unique. The stories and scripts I’ve written that have been most successful always explore the themes that resonate with me: identity, sexuality, and obsession.

As Natasha Ilumberg, the great memoirist says, ‘I was born without mental eyelids.’

Timelock — 2 to 3 hours

Spend some time exploring your brand identity.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Design or draw a logo for your brand as a writer.
  2. Try an experiment. Each day for a week, work on one of your potential brand ideas. Which one did you connect with the most?
  3. Write on a card. Write: My name is … and my brand is ….because …
  4. Write a profile of your ideal or perfect reader. Who is she? What does he want from your stories?
  5. Make strong decisions and be confident.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Innovate – don’t imitate.’ Anthony Ehlers

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:

Write Your Novel In A Year: Week 50: Building Your Brand As An Author

Welcome to week 50 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Building Your Brand As An Author – Where Do You Start? 

Goal setting
  1. Create your author platform and brand.
Breaking it down
I was lucky enough to attend an author evening with the bestselling Australian ghostwriter and novelist, Michael Robotham. His advice to aspiring writers was to treat writing like a ‘passionate hobby’.  Great advice.

I think it keeps you focused on why you’re writing, rather than becoming obsessed with getting published. However, at some point, you have to treat writing as a career or even as a small business. And that means becoming more professional. Marketing yourself. Taking some time to understand what your brand is as an author.

You have to start acting like an author – how else will people take your seriously?
First readers
Finding first or beta readers for your novel is much like testing your product – like a focus group for a new lipstick or beer.  You want to get some feedback from a small group before you launch it to the world.

When looking for beta readers online, it’s important to find the right readers – readers who typically enjoy your genre. It’s no good inviting people who read Young Adult fiction to read your Action Adventure story.  There are quite a few platforms for beta readers online – so it’s worth doing some research before you go this route. Often it’s a good idea to start as a beta reader yourself – this will give you a better understanding of the process.

If this doesn’t strike you as a good idea – or if you’re a bit technophobic – then you can approach your writing group for a critique.  I have a handful of trusted friends who are also writers with whom I’d share my manuscript.

No writing group?  That’s not a problem. You could always show it to one trusted person – it may be your wife, your partner, an old school friend whose literary opinion you trust.  You’ll be in safer hands than a hundred anonymous readers.

My sister is a voracious reader and she’ll always offer an honest opinion. She may not know all the technical reasons a book doesn’t work, but she’ll be very clear about whether she enjoyed it or not. I probably value her opinion the most.

Your author platform
In the digital age, no writer can ignore social media.  It’s a must. If you haven’t done so already, you should register a domain name for your website. This should be in your writing name – so if you’re using a pseudonym, this is the name you should try to register.

You don’t have to create a website right away; all you have to do is ‘park’ this domain so that no one else grabs it when you become famous. Depending on your country, this is relatively inexpensive and easy process. 

At this point, you can also think about starting a Facebook author page separate from your private Facebook account, as well as creating a specific Twitter handle. You don’t have to be on every social media platform – so think about the platforms that will suit your genre.  For example, Young Adult novelists will probably do well on Instagram, while women’s fiction may lend itself to Pinterest. 

It’s probably a good idea to invest in some really nice pictures of yourself for your social media and PR.  A selfie or a picture of you in shorts and t-shirt at the beach are probably not the best images you wish to portray.  Choose something that reflects your personality and the type of fiction you write.

You don’t need to hire a professional photographer and spend a lot of money. A friend with a good eye and a decent smartphone could probably do the job.  And your pictures don’t have to be posed and artificial – they can be relaxed, but professional. 

For example, I love the pictures that Nora Roberts used on some of her J.D. Robb hardcovers — the author is walking across a bridge in New York at night, in jeans and a leather coat. It gives the edgy crime flavour that comes across in these detective stories.
Build your brand, reveal your personality
I know that some of you may shudder and grimace when people tell you that an author has to become a brand. I know. I used to be one of them. ‘Brand’ sounds so cold, commercial, and even a bit artificial.

You’re not a bottle of cola or a new watch; you’re an artist, right? Yes, you are – but even artists have a persona, a face they show the world. Picasso, more myth than man, was probably the best PR for his art – his personality and private life was almost as colourful as his art.

Thomas Pynchon, literature’s most famous recluse, is also making a bold statement about who he is and what he writes by not revealing his hand.

So … don’t think of it as a brand. Rather, think of it a bridge between you and your readers. You want to invite them into your fictional world and give them a snapshot of who you are as a writer – in the digital world, writers and readers have never been closer. Use that to your advantage.

Having a clear brand is a way to introduce yourself and your books to your readers. You want to invite them in; not shut them out.

Picture your ideal reader in your mind. What would they like to know about your books? What genre do you write in? What is the promise you’re making to them when they pick up one of your books? What inspired you to write your books? 

For me, branding isn’t about selling books. That’s far too blatant. It’s about It’s about making an emotional connection between the reader and the author – creating trust, intimacy, and a shared value or belief. Fans love strong personalities; they love quirks, humour, boldness.

Timelock — 3 to 5 hours

Spend a couple of hours creating your action plan for your author brand and platform.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Draw up your Facebook page or website on a piece of cardboard, using sticky notes or cut-outs from magazines. Make it as visual as possible.
  2. Write a press release announcing yourself as an author and your new book just for fun. Get over your shyness about talking about yourself.
  3. Find five author websites you like. What do they have in common? Why do you like them?
  4. Speak to design students or photographers looking to create a portfolio of work. Often they’ll be willing to help you for a smaller fee than professionals.
  5. Write out five ideas for blog topics if you’re going to have a blog on your website.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Be so good they can’t ignore you!’ — Steve Martin

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 49: Why Writing ‘The End’ Is Not Goodbye (Yet)
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 48: 5 Elements You Need In Chapter One To Hook Your Reader
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year: Week 47: 3 Secrets to Successfully Submitting Your Manuscript

~~~

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 49: Why Writing ‘The End’ Is Not Goodbye (Yet)

Welcome to week 49 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

Goal setting
  1. Planning the next steps to getting published.

Breaking it down

A pit stop on your journey
We’ve done a lot this year as we worked to writing a novel in a year. We should all be proud.

If you’ve been living with a cast of characters – in your head, on the page – for almost a year, it can be hard to leave them behind. If you’ve been sweating out a plot, trying to get the structure perfect, it can be hard to let go.

You’ve become attached to your story. It’s become a living thing, or at least taken on a life of its own.  To let go, it seems, feel like abandonment or even betrayal.

At this point you’ve done as much as you can on your manuscript.  It’s just about time to take off the water wings and let it swim on its own.

However, you’re probably not done with it forever — you can still prepare for the next steps in the journey.

If you’re lucky enough to get your book accepted …
Let’s look into the future for a moment. If you’re lucky enough to get accepted by an agent or publisher, you’ll soon be revisiting your manuscript. In fact, you may be shocked to realise how much work is still left to do on it.

Editors are not the enemy. Sometimes they may feel like enemies at first, but if you don’t resist the editorial process you’ll find it will make your writing that much better.  We can all learn from editors if we’re willing to collaborate with them and take their advice.

Sometimes you may disagree with their ideas for changes. This is an opportunity to think critically about your story and defend your stance.

A few years ago, I submitted a short story for an anthology, which was accepted.  The editor assigned to work with me before publication felt the ending was problematic.

Reading the story again, I agreed. Working together, throwing ideas back and forth, we eventually found an ending that suited the main character and his situation.  Looking back, I’m still grateful for her help.

… and if you aren’t lucky that first time …
Rejection happens to us all as writers. Sometimes well-meaning friends or fellow writers will come up with some glib statements. Here are two of them and how I feel about them.

1. ‘It’s your book, not you, that they’re rejecting.’ Well, you wrote the book, didn’t you? How could you not it personally? It stings. It hurts. Allow yourself to feel that.

2. ‘JK Rowling was rejected nine or twelve times.’ The only problem is: you’re not JK Rowling and this is your book, and it’s happening to you right now. Being reminded of someone else’s success when you’re feeling low is probably not going to make you feel a lot better.

The truth is there may be a hundred reasons a publisher or agent turns you down. One of them may be they don’t have a place for you on their list or they’ve just signed a similar author. Another reason could that your story is, in fact, bad.

While you’re waiting to be published, this is a good time to work on your manuscript. To find ways to improve it, polish it – the more distance and time you put between you and the book, the more likely you’ll start noticing the flaws in it.

Timelock — 1 to 2 hours

Spend some time working on planning your next stage of submitting your book.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Resist the temptation to re-read your book every day. Put some distance between you and the work.
  2. Start a new novel, short story, or screenplay. It’s important to keep up the creative process.
  3. Take time to celebrate the milestones in your journey. You've worked hard to achieve them.
  4. Keep a diary or journal – it’s a good way to make sense of your emotions.
  5. Give yourself a day and no more to feel bad after a rejection. Dwelling on it won’t help you or your book.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.’ — Michael Crichton

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 48: 5 Elements You Need In Chapter One To Hook Your Reader
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year: Week 47: 3 Secrets to Successfully Submitting Your Manuscript
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 46: 3 Lessons On Theme, Character, And Plot

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 48: 5 Elements You Need In Chapter One To Hook Your Reader

Welcome to week 48 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Focus on polishing your first chapter.
Breaking it down

Your first chapter is the window to a showroom, beckoning us with a display of shiny new cars that promise adventure, an exquisite new dress in a shop window that hints at romance, or a candy display at a market promising the best sugar high ever.

How do you make sure you entice the reader in? How do you make that first critical chapter a moment of seduction, one the reader will never forget? In short, how do you get them hooked?

①  The first line is your last chance to grab the reader.
‘My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.’ This is the first line of Melina Marchetta’s Young Adult novel On the Jellicoe Road.  It would be hard not to read on from that first line, wouldn’t it?

I’ll make a confession. For the last few nights, I’ve stared at my opening line. I’ve rewritten it, deleted it, scratched out a previously discarded version – I’m still not happy with it.  I’m obsessed with it – you could say I want too much from it.  I want it to be perfect.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

There’s an exception for every rule, I know, and I think we should be aware of that. The first line should be simple – no more than 10 or 12 words. But they can be complex too, if that’s the style of your novel. It can be surprising, tense, absurd – but it should grip the reader.

The first line can be a sledgehammer breaking its way into an action-packed narrative. It can be a soft feather to tickle and entice the reader into a romance. However, you can try too hard sometimes. If you force something dramatic and the result will come across as contrived. 

In essence, I think it’s about giving the reader a way into your story – it’s about picking up a thread, opening a door for a glimpse inside and engaging the senses.
②  The world on the first page.
When we’re writing our opening scene or chapter, we’re building a bridge between the world outside of the covers of the book and the fictional wonderland within. It’s like a child’s pop-up books – but you have to build that cardboard castle with words.  You have to engage the reader’s senses, colour their imagination.

I find it’s always best to start orientating the reader sooner rather than later – in other words, point them towards north. For me, that’s about giving a sense of setting — a fantasy kingdom or downtown Miami, it doesn’t matter, let us know the frame. 

That takes care of the pictures in their mind. Next comes the style. This is where a lack of confidence as a writer will trip you up. The voice of your story must come through — from the tone to the theme, this must be the most consistent element throughout your entire novel, so it’s important to get it pitch perfect. Whether you’re using a first person narrator or a third-person viewpoint, we must trust the voice of the story.

③  
An unforgettable character or characters.
In Kiran Desai’s Man Book Prize-winning novel, The Inheritance of Loss, we open on a cold mist-shrouded scene in the Himalayan mountains — and a house occupied by three characters: a girl waiting for her tutor, an old man waiting for his tea, and a cook waiting for a letter from his son in America.

Even though the story unfolds at a slow pace, we’re introduced to the characters that hold the story together – we identify with them, they start to come alive in our imagination. That’s all the reader wants from the opening pages.
 ④ A challenging or thought-provoking question.
One thing we tend to forget about readers is that they love to believe they’re one step ahead of the story. Paradoxically, they love to be proved wrong – they’re waiting for the trapdoor. Waiting for you, as the author, to surprise them.

What’s going to happen in this story? What is this character all about? How would I react in that situation? These are all questions that play at the corners of our minds when we’re reading. The mistake we as writers make is that we try to answer all those questions in the first chapter. Don’t.

If your reader is a fish, you should be drawing them in with a beautiful lure, not blowing them out the water with dynamite.  On the other side, you don’t want to give them just one sad worm at the end of your hook. Balance is critical. It has to be just enough.
A last page that promises more.
The last page of your chapter is not the most important page in your book – it’s not where you make the sale. It’s cocktail hour, an hors d’oeuvre, rather than the raucous party that’s waiting deeper in the book.

For this reason, and it’s a personal reason, I don’t like emphatic endings to chapter one. I prefer a little mystery, something elliptical … something that will lead me seamlessly into the next chapter. Of course, you can end chapter one with a bang but just remember you only have another five bullets left in the chamber. Use them sparingly.
Timelock — 3 to 4 hours

Spend a morning or afternoon refining your first chapter.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Rewrite your opening line at least 10 times in 10 different ways. Experiment.
  2. Cut the first two paragraphs from your opening chapter – and see if it doesn’t read better.
  3. Describe your character in twenty words or less. Try to distil the essence of him or her into the first two pages.
  4. Lists as many of the senses you use in the first few pages of your novel on a separate piece of paper.  Group them by smell, taste, etc. Have you used enough? Too many?
  5. Cut the last two paragraphs of your chapter – could it be used to open Chapter Two?
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Another word for talent is obsession.’  — Marion Dank Bauer

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year: Week 47: 3 Secrets to Successfully Submitting Your Manuscript
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 46: 3 Lessons On Theme, Character, And Plot
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 45: How To Find A Top Literary Agent

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year: Week 47: 3 Secrets to Successfully Submitting Your Manuscript


Welcome to week 47 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Write your query letter
  2. Write your synopsis
  3. Prepare your first three chapters
Breaking it down

Finding an agent or publisher for your novel is like making a good marriage. It’s all about relationships.

Your query letter is your first date. Your synopsis is your best weekend away. And your partial manuscript is an engagement party – a dress rehearsal for the real thing. If you get all three correct, it will lead to a marriage contract.

But there’s a lot of work to do before you get to the wedding bells.

1.  Your query letter: Show up looking your best
A first date is about putting your best foot forward. The same goes for your query letter. You want to show up looking smart, not in your oldest pair of jeans with your shirt tail hanging out. 

There’s that old saying, ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ It’s never been truer than for your first shot at a publisher or agent.  Make sure your query letter is as polished, slick, and engaging as you can make it.

While you’re still sussing each other out, a first date usually involves a drink or a coffee — it’s short, it has a purpose. Do we like each other? Is there any potential for a match? For the same reason, keep your query letter to one page.

Start with a punchy description of your novel – one or two lines. If you can do it in less than 50 words, that’s good. If you can nail it in 25 words, even better.  Don’t forget to call out your title and your genre.

You can include an intriguing question. For my book, I may use just such a hook. What if a one-night fantasy turns in a terrifying nightmare for a perfect couple?

You can also ‘shorthand’ the concept of the novel using other current publishing or pop references. When people ask me what my book is about, I often say, ‘It’s Fatal Attraction with a couple.’ It may be a bit lazy, but it does get the point across quickly.

You can also make a bold statement, something that really anchors the story in the imagination. Some examples I’m playing with: If you’re in an open relationship, be careful who you let in.

Once you’ve got the reader hooked, you can give one or two more paragraphs that tease out the plot conflicts, character struggles, and even a bit of the setting.

Finish off with a brief author bio. Here you can briefly mention your writing credits and ambitions, but it’s also a good idea to give the editor or agent a glimpse of who you are away from your writing desk. A flavour of your personality.

2.  Your synopsis: Pack just what you need
If you’ve ever been away for a weekend, romantic or otherwise, you know you can only really take one small suitcase or travel bag. And it’s the same with your synopsis – you want to fill this two-page document only with the essentials of what you need.

Writing a synopsis is a tricky business. If I can go back to that travel bag for a moment. If you try to stuff too much in it, when you get to your destination, all your clothes will be creased, even a bit jumbled.

And if you pack to little, you’ll be walking around in a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers all weekend – not your best look either.  So… what do you ‘pack’ into your synopsis?

Well, the essentials to start with.  Something about the characters to start - name, age, profession, looks.  In my synopsis, I describe my antagonist quickly. Monty (20), varsity dropout, spends his days at gym, nights drifting around Cape Town’s nightlife.

Next, you need to give the basics of plot. Here you can focus on the six indispensable plot pivots we spoke about in a previous blog. Perhaps just a line or two on each – from the inciting moment to the climax and ending.  (Yes, even the ending: this isn’t a teaser, it’s a summary.) Spend some time refining and sharpening these.

Once you have these packed, you’ll see how much room you have left. And you can fill in the spaces between each plot point or pivot. And fill only bits you need to build a bridge between those main storyline elements.

In my story, for example, I have a subplot about Jenna’s career – but I won’t waste space in my synopsis with this because it doesn’t relate to the main storyline.

Once you’re done, read the synopsis aloud. Go through it with a red pen. Take out every word you don’t need. See if you can shorten paragraphs into one sentence.  You’ll work hard at getting this right – but it’ll be worth it.
3.  Your first three chapters: A perfect arrangement
Your first three chapters are a taste of things to come. Provided an editor or agent liked your query letter and synopsis, this is your chance to really impress.

Your first chapters should contain a few crucial elements if they’re going to capture the attention of an editor and, later on, the reader. You need to show what the world your main characters live in. And not just the setting but the moral, social, sexual, political etc. world they live. How will readers identify with them? Are their fears, struggles, desires universal?

By the end of the first three chapters, you should have included your inciting incident. Maybe your novel has a hook right on page one, or maybe you build up slowly to a moment of change — but there has to be something or someone for your main character to pursue or escape.

Don’t be too nervous about committing to these chapters.  They’re not going to the printers tomorrow. This is the engagement party – not the wedding.

Some authors have many other drafts after their novels have been submitted and accepted. And that’s exactly what you want from an agent or editor.

A good agent or editor will be able to give you advice and work with you to make your book better and more marketable.

Timelock — 8 to 10 hours

Spend as much time as you need creating these three elements.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Write the opening hook of your novel as a Tweet (maximum 140 characters)
  2. Talk about what your book is really about to yourself. Record your voice. Listen to it a few days later. How can you make your pitch stronger?
  3. Create a synopsis for the last movie you watched or a book you read.  
  4. Challenge yourself to cut at last 10 per cent from your first three chapters.
  5. Consider using an appraisal or editorial service to help you polish your submission.
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.’ — Stephen King

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 46: 3 Lessons On Theme, Character, And Plot
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 45: How To Find A Top Literary Agent
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 44: White Hot Writer – 7 Tricks To Write Faster

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 46: 3 Lessons On Theme, Character, And Plot

Welcome to week 46 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Review your theme
  2. Review your plot
  3. Review your characters
Breaking it down


1.   A last look at … theme
I’ve been pretty hung up on theme during this year of writing our manuscripts. For me, theme is so important – as it influences all the other elements in your novel. It’s the lifeblood of any story.

In James Dickey’s 1971 modern classic, Deliverance, we see theme in action. On one hand, it’s a raw, thrilling tale of survival. Four friends take a trip along the fictional Cahulawassee River before creeping urbanisation encroaches over the northern wilderness of northern Georgia.

On the other, it’s a fascinatingly bleak swan song to the 1960s – as the hippie treatise of ‘make love, not war’ of a dying era is put to the test. In contrast, these middle-aged businessmen are confronted with their inner violence to save their own lives. The right theme, at the right time. 

Theme is a question. An open-ended question that is finally answered in a resonating statement. The big invisible stamp that comes down as the final indictment of your characters and your plot.

As I come to the end of my manuscript, I’ve grappled with this question, this statement. Just how committed is a relationship if both parties are willing to bring a third party into their bed? That may be the central question. And the statement: A committed relationship is less about monogamy and more about honesty.

I always thought jealousy was my stronger, more dominant, theme but it turns out that it’s more of a catalyst or a consequence for my main characters. That a fantasy – once it becomes reality – can expose the fault lines in a relationship and in each individual character: anxiety, anger, distrust, envy.

Of course, you can have more than one theme operating in your story – in fact, you should – but there should be one theme at the top that holds the whole story together. 

2.  A last look at … characters
‘Yes, I know you make them up,’ writes Orson Scott Card in Characters and Viewpoint. ‘But readers want your characters to seem like real people.’ This is so true.

In Truman Capote’s flamboyant 1958 classic novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you never for a moment believe that Holly Golightly isn’t a real person. An orphan, a brittle funny party girl, a young woman reinventing her life – and identity – in New York, she is almost mythical, ephemeral… but also one of the most indelible characters you’ll find. She has just enough emotional depth, and tragic fragility, to make her seem real. She’s the ultimate romantic heroine, perfect for a romantic fantasy.

In my story, I find that my characters only developed depth – become believable to me as the writer – when they had a past. One of things I overlooked as I started to write was their histories. Hidden events made visible in the present text.

If you haven’t explored their back stories, perhaps now is the time to spend some time – and as many pages as you need – on your character biographies.

3.  A last look at … plot
I’ll be honest. For me, all writing is hard, but plot is the hardest writing. Why? Because it’s not really writing – it’s not that wonderful flow of a pen across the page, the freedom of creating. It’s thinking. It’s stop-start-start again planning. And it’s sweating in jaw-clenched frustration.

Plot, at its core, is structure. It’s having a solid enough foundation to build on, making sure you have just the right amount of concrete to build a story big enough to house your characters and your theme. The blueprint of your novel.

One of my favourite comedies is the classic 2003 Coen brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty. It just has such a perfect plot. A bored divorce attorney and serial divorcee collide in a screwball love story. It’s simple, strong, surprising. You never see the twists coming but, boy, when they do come the twists are believable. Perfect timing in a perfect comedy.

In my story, this timing is sometimes lacking. And for me, that means going back to the basic principle of plot: rising tension. I need to make sure that there are peaks and troughs, low points and high points throughout.

Don’t get too rigid in your plot: you’re in control, and you can manipulate and mould your characters to fit into your story. So don’t be afraid to change things – even if it means rewriting. Now is the time to do it, before it goes to an editor or agent.
Timelock — 3 hours

Spend an hour reviewing each of these elements in your book – theme, characters, plot.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Try to capture the three-to-five ‘big’ themes in your story in a word or phrase. Pin these up at your desk. 
  2. What do you believe – as a person, as a writer – about the theme of your book? Pretend a journalist has asked this in an interview. How do you answer?
  3. Your character is having a sleepless night. What’s haunting their mind? What excitement is keeping them from sleep?
  4. Write one short paragraph that ties the theme, characters, and plot of your novel together.
  5. You’re setting your antagonist up on a blind date. How do you spin his bad behaviour into an attractive quality?

Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.’ — Italo Calvino

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 45: How To Find A Top Literary Agent
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 44: White Hot Writer – 7 Tricks To Write Faster
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 43: 3 Ways To Finish Your Draft Before The End Of The Year

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 45: How To Find A Top Literary Agent

Welcome to week 45 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

What Every Author Needs To Know About Finding The Best Literary Agent

‘A good literary agent is a career builder, rather than just a deal maker,’ says Mark Gottlieb, of the Trident Media Group, a New York literary agency, which represents over 1,000 bestselling authors. ‘A good agent isn’t only booking talent, but creating opportunities for the writer — with a battle plan that’s ready to shock a publisher and impress an author.’

Mark has ranked as high as #1 in Agents on Publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other individual categories. We asked him about finding an agent.
 

1.  What do you look for – and avoid – in manuscripts in your role at Trident?
When writing commercial fiction, it’s important to be aware of genre conventions and tropes — either to avoid them or spin them in a new way. For example, in almost every zombie novel, the protagonist wakes in hospital from a coma to find the world’s full of zombies. Nowadays, that trope is just old hat to most readers.
2.  Do literary agents only represent published authors?
The notion isn’t entirely true. I’ll give an example. A recent manuscript I recently took on, and sold, was sci-fi author Christopher Brown’s Tropic of Kansas coming out from Harper Voyager in 2017. What drew me to the project was that Christopher not only had a lot of ‘street cred’ as an award-nominated writer in his shorter work — stories, nonfiction, and criticism — he’d already collected pre-publication blurbs from notable authors for his book and trade review sites.
3.  What do you look for in a query letter?
My advice is to really nail the writing of that query letter. A good query letter that reads well is usually a good indication that the manuscript will similarly read well, inclining the agent to request the manuscript. Often the query letter can go on to become the publisher’s jacket copy.
4.  What value does an agent deliver in return for a percentage of an author’s earnings?
At the Trident Media Group literary agency, we’re a full-service literary agency. Many of our fiction and non-fiction titles have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers Lists and have won major awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Booker Prize.

The value for authors lies in what I call the ‘Trident Advantage’. We’re a diverse group of successful literary agents, skilled in all genres of fiction and nonfiction, and career management. We’re leaders in international sales, audio rights, film and TV sales, and foreign rights. We offer support services, which include contract negotiation, legal review, and much more.
5.  Can an independent or self-published author get an agent?
The bar is quite high in terms of self-publishing to attract an agent or traditional publisher. An author needs to have sold at least 50,000 copies at a decent price to secure an agent.

It’s easy for an author to feel discouraged and turn to self-publishing or small indie publishing. However, many successful self-published authors eventually go into traditional publishing to take advantage of having a team of professionals at a literary agency who help them take their work to the next level.

At Trident, we’ve built a lot of self-published success stories into bestsellers, giving authors a Godzilla-like footprint in the industry.

I’d like to think that a literary agency would save an author a lot of headaches in to order to help them focus on their own writing, allowing them to be more prolific.

6.  How has agenting changed in the era of digital publishing?
The digital landscape has seen our literary agency evolve. Our agency, for example, has a digital media and publishing department, focusing on digital marketing and a publicity strategy for our authors.

Many of our authors have benefited from this service, going on to hit the bestseller lists. As such, we have tremendous resources available to help our authors, especially working with their publishers. We have in-depth meetings with publishers, and encourage them to perform more marketing tasks for the author.

It’s no lie that an author receives a larger share of royalties in the digital space in self-publishing. However, authors sell in smaller numbers than a literary agent and publisher could do for an author.
7.  Does one have to have a completed manuscript before approaching an agent?
Generally, fiction needs to be fully written in order to be sold, since it’s about the quality of the writing. An agent would be reluctant to sell a work of fiction on a proposal basis. Non-fiction can be sold on a book proposal, as it’s idea driven and more about the author’s authority on the subject matter.
8.  How long does an author wait to hear back from an agent?
Depending on the length of a manuscript, and how much is on the agent’s plate already, response times can differ. I prefer to read a submission within the first few days or weeks of receiving a manuscript from an author in order to express my level of enthusiasm rather than just sitting on my hands.
9.  Should an author submit multiple queries to multiple agents?
I always say begin at the top in terms of submitting to literary agents, and then work your way down — that will produce the very best results.

Most literary agencies tend to be small and are inclined to give rights away to publishers – whether because they can’t fend the publisher off, or just don’t have the resources to sell those rights properly on their own.

Trident has nearly 50 full-time employees, and handles contract review, foreign rights, audio books, film and TV, within our own company walls. We help authors properly exploit those rights with other publishers.
10. What’s the difference between a literary agent and a literary advisory service?
Unfortunately, the world of literary agenting is full of a lot of people who appear to have died on the inside and are just waiting for a bestseller to hopefully float on down the river.

Short of finding a literary agent that can actually produce results, an author might have to turn to somewhere else. However, I see no difference between a literary agent that covers what a literary advisory service ought to provide.

I don’t see the need for a literary advisory service in an author’s life once an author finds a proper literary agent.

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 44: White Hot Writer – 7 Tricks To Write Faster
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 43: 3 Ways To Finish Your Draft Before The End Of The Year
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 42: 12 Easy Ways To Find A Title For Your Novel

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 44: White Hot Writer – 7 Tricks To Write Faster


Welcome to week 44 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here

Goal setting
  1. Explore some strategies for writing faster.
Breaking it down

Sometimes I set myself a challenge to see how many words I can write in an hour. On average, I can write about 1,000 – 1,200 words in an hour – less if I get distracted, and more if I’m really ‘in the zone’.

Here is some insight that may help you get your word count up, especially if you’re doing NaNoWriMo or pushing to finish your novel.

7 Tricks To Write Faster
① Take the plunge. Get into the writing as quickly as possible. If you’ve ever been swimming, you know that dipping your toe in the water just causes delay. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What if the water is too cold? But if you somersault in – no matter how clumsy, or graceless –it gets you over the shock. Get ahead of your fears. The trick? Write faster than your doubts.
② First things first. That being said, sometimes it is helpful to do a bit of planning. To settle, and focus, your mind on what you want to achieve in a scene or chapter. A quick outline, a few bullet points or a bubble chart – all go a long way to keeping you on track. Prioritise the important scenes, those crucial scenes you can’t skip or leave out.
③ Target practice. Before you start your writing session, set yourself a goal or target. Write it on the top of your page, or type it out on a new Word Doc. It helps to have something to aim for — especially if you’re in competition with your own pre-set ideas of what you can achieve. The idea is to keep calm, to follow your instinct, and to trust your story and your characters.
④ You’re out of order (and that’s fine).  We expect our first drafts to look like finished and beautifully published novels. This is crippling, yes, and also a waste of time. You don’t get build a jet from a paper aeroplane. Your sentences or paragraphs don’t have to be smart soldiers on parade, all in single file. They can be kids on a jungle gym, cookies of all shapes and sizes. They can even be mixed metaphors like this paragraph here. Just get down what’s in your head, in your imagination. If you get stuck on one paragraph or even a scene – change the swim lane. Jump ahead or back to another scene. Who’s the author here anyway?
⑤ Don’t stop for perfect — it takes too long! The idea is, as always, to keep the hand moving — to follow the story running on ahead of you. For example, say you want to describe a heroine’s hairstyle, don’t stop your writing to climb into your thesaurus – write the first thing that comes to mind. Latch on to an image, a spark. Her hair was streaked with colour like a melting fudge sundae. If nothing comes to mind, just write a nice, expensive hair cut – you can revise it later.
⑥ Seriously, don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Your manuscript will be checked at the end of the process. It doesn’t make sense to make sure every word is spelled correctly or about dangling participles – whatever those are – if there’s a possibility that you’re going to cut a lot of text in a subsequent draft. There are words I consistently spell wrong. I remind myself I’m a creative writer; not an English teacher.
⑦ Push harder just before the finish line. Just as a sprinter pushes with herculean force just before they cross the finish line, speed up as you get to the end of your writing session. That’s why it’s a good idea to set an alarm or stopwatch for your writing session — it makes you aware of time, and it makes you push yourself as you reach the end of that session. You’ll be amazed at how much you can write in those last two minutes.
Timelock — 1 to 2 hours

Set yourself a challenge to write as many words as you can in an hour or two.


5 Quick Hacks
  1. Set yourself a timelock. Say, ‘I have an hour to write 500 words. Go.’ And when it’s done, stop. Take a break.
  2. Or set yourself a reward scale. Say, ‘If I finish this chapter, I’ll treat myself to an episode of Black Mirror.’
  3. Try positive psychology. Remind yourself of previous writing achievements, or write out a couple of affirmations before you start your writing session.
  4. If you don’t like a stopwatch method, try writing around your daily routines. Set yourself a word-count marker for your lunch hour, or for the full length of the dishwasher cycle, even while the kids are in the bath.

  5. Identify your most productive writing time. Notice when you have the most energy and the least distractions. Early mornings, late nights — find something that works for you
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘The faster I write, the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.’ — Raymond Chandler 

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 43: 3 Ways To Finish Your Draft Before The End Of The Year
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 42: 12 Easy Ways To Find A Title For Your Novel
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 41: 7 Questions You Need To Ask Of Your First Draft

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 43: 3 Ways To Finish Your Draft Before The End Of The Year

Welcome to week 43 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here.

Goal setting

  1. Find a strategy for finishing your manuscript.
Breaking it down
Maybe you’ve got behind in your writing in the last few weeks or months. Or perhaps you’ve just hooked on to a great idea for a new story or novel – and want to get it down while the idea is still hot and fresh.

Whatever your reason for wanting to write faster, here are three methods to scale your word count and productivity in the next month.

1.  Nail it with Nano
National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo as it’s known – is a writing a challenge thousands of writers around the world take on every November.  The gauntlet? Write a 50,000-word novel, in just 30 days.

The initiative, launched in 1999, is today an Internet phenomenon. Some 350 novels written for NaNo have been snapped up by publishers. The idea is to fly by the seat of your pants – and just write!

If you’re going to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge, make sure you don’t skip a day. Once you get behind on your word count, it’s very difficult to get back on track.

You can join regional groups in your area – if you don’t fancy the idea of writing alone or just need to feed off the excitement and motivation of fellow writers. There are also online forums available.

So just follow your gut instinct on this one – either to get a rough draft down or to make up the missing word count on your existing manuscript.
2.  The Woodpecker Method
Woodpeckers peck at trees to find food or create a nest – there’s a reason to their rhythmic madness. The key to success in this method is simple: you have to be relentless and focused on your project.

It can be helpful if you have a stubborn plot problem or are faced with a challenging character. Once you’ve drilled through the hard exterior of the challenge, you’ll hopefully experience a breakthrough – you just keep pecking away.


In this method, don’t focus on time or word count. And don’t obsess about the bigger structure or plot of the story – you’re just making one hole at a time. So, set yourself a small objective and keep a laser-like focus on that objective.

Only once you’ve ‘broken’ that plot or character problem, can you move on to the next one. Again, one hole at a time.  While this may seem like a myopic approach, it can work for writers who are ‘all over the place’ or struggle to stay focused.
Source for gif

3.  The Slab System
With this system, you write a block or ‘slab’ of between 10,000 to 15,000 words a day almost as an uninterrupted narrative - it’s about momentum and ‘going the distance’.

‘When my horse is running good,’ William Faulkner famously said, ‘I don’t stop to give him sugar.’

This approach works well if you have lots of free time in your schedule or, better yet, have whole days at your disposal. If you can take a week or two away from the office or escape on a holiday on your own, this would probably be ideal.

For those of us who have to hold down a job or have family commitments, you could block out a weekend, which means you could conceivably push out 20,000 to 30,000 words in just two days. But you’d really have to be committed to writing the whole day: from dawn to midnight with short breaks.

Timelock — You decide

You can decide what your writing schedule looks like for the next few weeks.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Turn off your Internet connection and put your phone on silent when you write.
  2. Keep some easy, healthy snacks nearby, and a flask of coffee or tea to keep you going.
  3. Keep a small notebook to record your daily word count - celebrate the small victories.
  4. And plan a bigger celebration for the end of your writing stint – perhaps a movie or a nice meal out with your family and friends.
  5. Always remember, as we say in Writers Write, ‘You have permission to write badly.’
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘I write fast because I have not the brains to write slow.’ — Georges Simenon

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

If you enjoyed this post, read:
  1. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 42: 12 Easy Ways To Find A Title For Your Novel
  2. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 41: 7 Questions You Need To Ask Of Your First Draft
  3. Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 40: 3 Rules You Can Break To Start Your Story

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.