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How do you finish a novel? (1 Viewer)

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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
This year I have only one New Year's resolution. Yep...you got it...FINISH MY NOVEL!!!

Here's my problem, I hope you can help. I am 60% complete. I am super happy with everything I have drafted to date. The plotlines cross over nicely, the characters are not cliche, I have planted a number of seeds, and the foreshadowing is heading in the right direction to bring the story to a conclusion. I have already established what will happen and how it will end. But!! But what?!

If I had to explain it, this is how I feel. I have picked up a manual on flying and managed to get myself up into the air. But now, I'm 30,000 feet in the air and realized I have left the manual on the ground. I know there are a whole bunch of things I need to do, to get safely on the runway. But how do I land the plane?

What kind of techniques, plans or practices do you use to complete your novel?
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Without knowing your story, this is difficult to answer.
You have a major conflict and characters that are woven into it, pull all those pieces into a resolution, then focus on that and write toward it.

Sounds trite, I know, but it's kinda like that.

You say you know the ending, right? So, I'll give you a martial art analogy.

When I have a student break a board or a brick, I teach them that the most important thing is to see your target. Say that you're doing a turning back kick (left foot forward, you turn clockwise toward your back, lift your right leg and kick with the heel of that foot) - as soon as you turn, focus on the board... don't look at anything else, and kick. The interesting thing is that aiming isn't necessary; what your eyes lock on is where your foot will go.

We hit what we aim at. Focus, and just start writing.
 

K.S. Crooks

Senior Member
Try working backwards. For the ending know where you want your characters to be mentally and physically. How much will they change do to the events of the story. Once you have this established you can determine what events need to occur to bring about the ending you want. Another option is to continue to write and let the ending come about organically. This may lead to an ending you didn't plan for, but like better.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
Have you already written 2/3rds of the first draft or just really outlined it to hell and back? I'm asking because I think I would approach them differently if approaching the beginning or if approaching the next chapters.

Every writer does something different, right? But I think I heard someone talking recently about doing what I used to do when a teenager. This might work for you or not. You pick a scene that your brain is particularly interested in or that is coming to you easily and work on that. Let your brain be your guide and just keep doing what scene your brain wants to work on next. They don't have to be in chronological order yet. After you've written the meat of your scenes then you can do the grunt work of the smaller connective tissue that you need to make them flow together. That's just one idea. I used to write like this and I like the idea of not forcing chronological, but instead using what my brain is interested in in order to get it done and enjoy it too. But that might not work for you.

Or... you can return to your outline and figure out what things need to be addressed in each chapter and break it down almost to the point of you outlining what needs to be in each paragraph or page. And I've done that before too and it especially helped to make sure that I addressed every single thought that I wanted to get in there.

I haven't finished a novel yet either. I'm also hoping to this year....I'm one to talk...so.. let me know what you find works for you too! =)
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Without knowing your story, this is difficult to answer.
You have a major conflict and characters that are woven into it, pull all those pieces into a resolution, then focus on that and write toward it.

Sounds trite, I know, but it's kinda like that.

You say you know the ending, right? So, I'll give you a martial art analogy.

When I have a student break a board or a brick, I teach them that the most important thing is to see your target. Say that you're doing a turning back kick (left foot forward, you turn clockwise toward your back, lift your right leg and kick with the heel of that foot) - as soon as you turn, focus on the board... don't look at anything else, and kick. The interesting thing is that aiming isn't necessary; what your eyes lock on is where your foot will go.

We hit what we aim at. Focus, and just start writing.

That's a great analogy! And it gives me confidence that I can do this -- a good visual to keep me on track!

I think the difference between the first half and last half is that for the beginning when you're developing characters and plotlines you can just let your mind go wherever it wants, everything is new. But as you start to wrap it up you have to remember everything you've done to date, all the seeds, and make sure they all come to fruition or to some logical demise.

I also find that my writing style is to show not tell, and I use a lot of dialogue, so it takes a bit more time to write. I was enjoying that in the first half, but now I feel I have to be careful not to rush to the end, just telling the story and letting the quality of writing suffer. But I agree that having a target helps. I would say that is good advice for almost anything you do in life!

I appreciate your support because I know you have done this a few times. :)
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Try working backwards. For the ending know where you want your characters to be mentally and physically. How much will they change do to the events of the story. Once you have this established you can determine what events need to occur to bring about the ending you want. Another option is to continue to write and let the ending come about organically. This may lead to an ending you didn't plan for, but like better.

Yes, that's good advice. I will definitely go with option one. The story is based on a real life white collar crime, so I know what the events are, and what happens in the end. But the characters are all fictitious. The challenge is to make sure there is enough of the crime featured in the story and characters lives so that the reader will understand what happens at the end.

Using my accounting background I tried to set up a chart and block in the events and scenes by chapter. Funny thing is, that hasn't worked at all as I haven't been following it, and find it hard to decide the scenes in advance. So to a degree I'm also using option two, because writing fiction is creative and you have to let it flow naturally.

But you give me confidence in that I don't have to have it all worked out in my mind -- at the end of the day the only thing that will get me to the end is to write!
 

Cephus

Senior Member
Honestly, you just write. It doesn't matter if it's crap, you keep going until you get to the end and then fix all of the problems that will inevitably pop up in revision. A lot of this is just knowing how your genre operates, which requires that you have read heavily in your genre. You cannot be a writer if you are not also a reader. I was talking to someone about this not long ago and I told them I read close to 100 books a year and I write an average of 6. If your nose isn't constantly in a book, something is wrong. Once you know how your genre is structured, and every single one of them do have a specific structure, figuring out how to appeal to those readers really isn't that hard. No point in reinventing the wheel.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Honestly, you just write. It doesn't matter if it's crap, you keep going until you get to the end and then fix all of the problems that will inevitably pop up in revision. A lot of this is just knowing how your genre operates, which requires that you have read heavily in your genre. You cannot be a writer if you are not also a reader. I was talking to someone about this not long ago and I told them I read close to 100 books a year and I write an average of 6. If your nose isn't constantly in a book, something is wrong. Once you know how your genre is structured, and every single one of them do have a specific structure, figuring out how to appeal to those readers really isn't that hard. No point in reinventing the wheel.

Thanks for your advice. I heard that John Fowles used to write multiple drafts, changing the plot and ending each time. I'm not sure I could do that. I mean, maybe everything I'm writing is crap, but as I'm writing it, I'm not thinking it is. How do you even write crap? Just whatever comes to mind, without any thought of the reader?

There aren't a lot of books in my genre, 'Corporate Thriller'. But I have just ordered a few that were recommended in a link that luckyscars shared a few days ago. In fact, I only figured out my genre, with the help of luckyscars, last week. I've always just had this story in my mind and then I finally started to pen it, with no idea what I was doing...lol! This forum has been very helpful, I have learned a lot from others' experiences and knowledge about writing.

I agree with not reinventing the wheel, but I find that I often don't finish reading a book if it is too formulaic. I don't read as many books as you do, because I find it hard to find ones I like. I'm trying to write something that I would like to read. Maybe being your own target market is a bit of a trap. Time will tell!!

 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
[...]
I agree with not reinventing the wheel, but I find that I often don't finish reading a book if it is too formulaic. I don't read as many books as you do, because I find it hard to find ones I like. I'm trying to write something that I would like to read. Maybe being your own target market is a bit of a trap. Time will tell!!

I agree with your comment about formulaic (and therefore predictable) books. Actually, that was one of my motives to start writing; much of the stories I find in bookstores have been told, and told, and told - ad nauseam. Maybe the cause are agents that want tried and true stories that were guaranteed to sell well? I dunno, but there are a lot twists and turns out there that could be written, and a lot of readers that are hungry for something new.

Like you, I write the stories I would like to read - and maybe you're right about falling into a trap of a very limited market. In the end though, I'm satisfied with what I do, and that's enough.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Have you already written 2/3rds of the first draft or just really outlined it to hell and back? I'm asking because I think I would approach them differently if approaching the beginning or if approaching the next chapters.

Every writer does something different, right? But I think I heard someone talking recently about doing what I used to do when a teenager. This might work for you or not. You pick a scene that your brain is particularly interested in or that is coming to you easily and work on that. Let your brain be your guide and just keep doing what scene your brain wants to work on next. They don't have to be in chronological order yet. After you've written the meat of your scenes then you can do the grunt work of the smaller connective tissue that you need to make them flow together. That's just one idea. I used to write like this and I like the idea of not forcing chronological, but instead using what my brain is interested in in order to get it done and enjoy it too. But that might not work for you.

Or... you can return to your outline and figure out what things need to be addressed in each chapter and break it down almost to the point of you outlining what needs to be in each paragraph or page. And I've done that before too and it especially helped to make sure that I addressed every single thought that I wanted to get in there.

I haven't finished a novel yet either. I'm also hoping to this year....I'm one to talk...so.. let me know what you find works for you too! =)

I have written twenty-two chapters in consecutive order. I also have a draft of the timelines, but that is a separate document.

I started off with just writing scenes, but then I found it hard to keep track of what had been developed and said in earlier scenes, and it was getting a little disjointed. A friend of mine who is a published author suggested I just start at chapter one and start writing. That has worked better for me so far, because it has a double purpose, one it's easier writing when you know what has already been set out, two you can see it come together as a book which is motivating. I got stuck earlier on, so I printed out all my pages in book fold and then created a book with a mock cover. Somehow seeing it physically helped me. I guess I am just a materialist at heart!

However, I guess since I've now stalled a bit I might try your first idea by drafting out a few choice scenes that I already have in my head. At this point, enticing my brain in any way sounds appealing!


I have also taken your advice and returned to my outline. It used to be a tack board full of multiple coloured Post Its, each colour representing a different component, i.e. characters, motivations, actions, places, etc. But when we moved it all got taken down. This might be a cause for the current blockage. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to paste them into a book. I've pulled it out and started to transcribe it to a Word doc. I already feel like that is helping and loosening up the creative juices.

I read on another thread that someone has a theme song for a particular story that they play whenever they start to write. Helps them to get back into the mood of what they had originally intended. I think I might try that. Maybe the theme from Rocky
would help. :)


 
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Llyralen

Senior Member
I have written twenty-two chapters in consecutive order. I also have a draft of the timelines, but that is a separate document.

I started off with just writing scenes, but then I found it hard to keep track of what had been developed and said in earlier scenes, and it was getting a little disjointed. A friend of mine who is a published author suggested I just start at chapter one and start writing. That has worked better for me so far, because it has a double purpose, one it's easier writing when you know what has already been set out, two you can see it come together as a book which is motivating. I got stuck earlier on, so I printed out all my pages in book fold and then created a book with a mock cover. Somehow seeing it physically helped me. I guess I am just a materialist at heart!

However, I guess since I've now stalled a bit I might try your first idea by drafting out a few choice scenes that I already have in my head. At this point, enticing my brain in any way sounds appealing!


I have also taken your advice and returned to my outline. It used to be a tack board full of multiple coloured Post Its, each colour representing a different component, i.e. characters, motivations, actions, places, etc. But when we moved it all got taken down. This might be a cause for the current blockage. Fortunately, I had the wherewithal to paste them into a book. I've pulled it out and started to transcribe it to a Word doc. I already feel like that is helping and loosening up the creative juices.

I read on another thread that someone has a theme song for a particular story that they play whenever they start to write. Helps them to get back into the mood of what they had originally intended. I think I might try that. Maybe the theme from Rocky
would help. :)



I will be looking forward to reading your work! =) Let me know if I can help. =)
 

Cephus

Senior Member
Thanks for your advice. I heard that John Fowles used to write multiple drafts, changing the plot and ending each time. I'm not sure I could do that. I mean, maybe everything I'm writing is crap, but as I'm writing it, I'm not thinking it is. How do you even write crap? Just whatever comes to mind, without any thought of the reader?

There aren't a lot of books in my genre, 'Corporate Thriller'. But I have just ordered a few that were recommended in a link that luckyscars shared a few days ago. In fact, I only figured out my genre, with the help of luckyscars, last week. I've always just had this story in my mind and then I finally started to pen it, with no idea what I was doing...lol! This forum has been very helpful, I have learned a lot from others' experiences and knowledge about writing.

I agree with not reinventing the wheel, but I find that I often don't finish reading a book if it is too formulaic. I don't read as many books as you do, because I find it hard to find ones I like. I'm trying to write something that I would like to read. Maybe being your own target market is a bit of a trap. Time will tell!!


Everything you're writing might be crap. Who knows? How do you think you're going to get better if you don't keep going? Nobody starts off good at this. It's all learned through hard work and experience. Even if you suck completely right now, so what? You can't get better if you don't try.

You need to consider who your customers are going to be and write accordingly. If there aren't a lot of books in your genre, meaning there aren't a lot of customers, who do you think you're going to sell to? Just because you like the idea, that doesn't mean it is automatically marketable. Consider your audience always and write to market. It has to be something you enjoy too, but you can't just write whatever comes to mind and expect that it will sell somehow. Make wise decisions about your choices and go from there. You need a hungry market.

You can't be the only one in your market. Do some research. Decide what you want to do. Do you want to only write for yourself or do you want to sell books? Those answers may not be the same.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Everything you're writing might be crap. Who knows? How do you think you're going to get better if you don't keep going? Nobody starts off good at this. It's all learned through hard work and experience. Even if you suck completely right now, so what? You can't get better if you don't try.

You need to consider who your customers are going to be and write accordingly. If there aren't a lot of books in your genre, meaning there aren't a lot of customers, who do you think you're going to sell to? Just because you like the idea, that doesn't mean it is automatically marketable. Consider your audience always and write to market. It has to be something you enjoy too, but you can't just write whatever comes to mind and expect that it will sell somehow. Make wise decisions about your choices and go from there. You need a hungry market.

You can't be the only one in your market. Do some research. Decide what you want to do. Do you want to only write for yourself or do you want to sell books? Those answers may not be the same.

What you say about the target market makes sense. I haven't written a lot of fiction, but generally when I produce anything, I have a purpose in mind and that involves producing something saleable. I guess I struggle with if I try too hard to fit into a genre I might lose my voice. And the voice is pretty loud right now! Perhaps there is a hungry market of other people like me...but like you say, unless I write it I'll never know.

I was once commissioned to develop some ethics training for 30,000 public servants. I knew nothing about professional ethics. I researched the topic and then wow...this loud voice! I listened to my voice and developed ethics training that was unlike anything I had seen. I ended up getting an award from the Deputy Premier, the highest award you could get from the Ministry of Finance. However, I'm not sure that these two experiences are interchangeable, or if I could actually pull that off again. But at least I have felt the reward for being a risk taker before.

So I guess the answer to your question is, something in between. Yes, I want to sell books, but I accept that my target market may be narrower, hopefully not just me.

Sounds like you are a prolific writer. That is enviable! When you write, do you sometimes feel like, 'yeah this is really good'? And if yes, are you right about it when people first read it? Is there any correlation to what you think and what others think?
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I can't really tell you how to finish your novel, but I can tell you how mine come about, in case anything clicks for you.

I have the story in mind (whether outlined or not) and I write up to my climax. I try to make the the situation troubling, and the solution clever, but organic to what readers know about the characters. Then I do some wrap-up, and at some point in the wrap-up I write a line that strikes me as a good ending line. It almost always surprises me, because I haven't planned a last line. There I stop.

I have a lot of practice on the climaxes, because I have several through the book as I resolve critical plot points, then I hit the defining climax at the end.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Honestly, you just write. It doesn't matter if it's crap, you keep going until you get to the end and then fix all of the problems that will inevitably pop up in revision.

I agree with this, mostly.

Here's the calculation: Is it better to own a messy and mold-ridden house, with a whole lot that's in need of major repair...or zero house at all?

My work is linked closely to the construction sector these days. Any realtor, any construction worker, will tell you that the vast majority of the time even the most rundown shithole of a building has some value, some potential. Though it happens, it's quite rare you actually have to level the whole thing and start over. There are houses that were once derelict, once murder scenes, long derelict and appearing worthless that good constructors are able to renovate and sell for millions. This is why there are millionaires from flipping houses: Almost any horrible old house can be fixed up, if only one had the will and means to make the needed investments in resources to do so. The human element is what generally stands in the way.

But the heart's desire for order coupled with crippling fear of failure often has us retreating to the 'blank page of opportunity', somewhere where we can lick our wounds and try again, free of any responsibility. All too often, people will abandon perfectly salvageable projects because they stop enjoying them, as if writing an entire book should be one, long euphoria. As if writing owes us unfettered joy and pleasure.

It isn't so. Writing a whole book is hard work. It's miserable at times. I don't believe a single writer makes it to the end of the book with zero doubts as to whether the story is worth continuing with. First drafts don't work if one is second-guessing every line to see if it measures up to some imagined standard. At some point (often about 60% of the way in, I find) the thrill of starting will have faded and every line will become a joyless slog, at least for awhile. It doesn't mean you're a bad writer. It doesn't mean you should stop. If anything, it should motivate you to work harder.

Now, there are times when projects do get abandoned and there are some projects where that makes sense. I started some threads about this ("Let's discuss our writing abortions...", "Rewriting When It's Godawful", etc.) so I totally am not a believer in the 'every book will turn out great if you just keep at it!' sort of utopia-think. No, if a book is truly making you miserable, and if the misery only gets worse as you go from chapter to chapter, if you find yourself writing a story that you begin to harbor genuine animosity toward for some reason or another -- "God I hate these characters" -- then it is possible that you SHOULD abandon it because, like a house built on a bog or ancient burial ground beyond a certain point, not doing sois only going to waste your time and passion.

But that's not, I believe, true in the vast majority of cases. In the vast majority of cases, initial enthusiasm simply burns off and writers get distracted by shiny new ideas and when this starts to become the norm you will NEVER FINISH ANYTHING because you have a problem of self-discipline and motivation, not writing.

So yeah, I agree with Cephus (doesn't happen often): Just write it. Evaluate nothing, expect nothing, be as dispassionate as you can and simply write the events as best you can in the moment going from A to B to C. The result will be crap, no doubt, but probably not as crap as you think. Then, once you have a completed first draft you can probably fix all the problems on rewrite. You certainly have a BETTER chance of getting a decent book from fixing problems than from starting over with that shiny blank page on which no such problems exist BECAUSE NOTHING EXISTS.
 
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Cephus

Senior Member
What you say about the target market makes sense. I haven't written a lot of fiction, but generally when I produce anything, I have a purpose in mind and that involves producing something saleable. I guess I struggle with if I try too hard to fit into a genre I might lose my voice. And the voice is pretty loud right now! Perhaps there is a hungry market of other people like me...but like you say, unless I write it I'll never know.

It's not hard to see where the hungry markets are, just run over to Amazon and see the top selling books on the platform. The secret isn't just finding a hungry genre, that's easy, it's finding one that you enjoy writing. Otherwise you will hate your life. The hungriest genre around is romance and one of my best friends writes romance, not because he likes it, in fact, he detests it, but almost anyone can make a buck writing romance if you do it decently well. He wants money so that's what he writes and he hates it every single day. Don't be him.

So I guess the answer to your question is, something in between. Yes, I want to sell books, but I accept that my target market may be narrower, hopefully not just me.

The time to find that out is now. You need to decide what you want. If you're just trying to write books that you like, then it doesn't matter if there's a market for it. If you want to get readers or make money at it, then absolutely, you need to find out if what you are doing fits into an existing market with a hungry audience. Otherwise, you'll just be disappointed with the results. Make some decisions and move on from there.

Sounds like you are a prolific writer. That is enviable! When you write, do you sometimes feel like, 'yeah this is really good'? And if yes, are you right about it when people first read it? Is there any correlation to what you think and what others think?

Reasonably so, I produce about 6 books a year. It's not enviable, it's just hard work. Anyone can do it with enough determination, skill and effort. And yes, I go back and read my books and they read just like any book you can get off of the shelf at a bookstore. I write the books I want to read, but I also write books that others want to read as well. I'm not writing in a narrow genre though, not really. I didn't pick it because it had hungry readers and I could make money, I did it because I had been reading it for years, but it happened to have plenty of people looking for content so it all worked out.
 

Sam

General
Patron
I assume you're asking how you tie up the strands you've created throughout the story into a denouement, rather than how to actually finish a novel. Without intimate knowledge of your story, I can't give you a concrete way of doing that, but I can give you general advice.

People often erroneously assume that starting a novel is the hardest part. In point of fact, millions of people start novels all the time. A very low percentage ever finish them. The ending is the hardest, not the least of which is because of the difficulty of tying up all the problems you've created throughout the story, but also knowing how to do so in a way that doesn't come across as a let down or a bad ending.

This is not something that will come naturally at the beginning. It took until my fifth novel for me to be comfortable with endings. Even now, as I'm set to put the finishing touches to my fourteenth, there are still teething problems. I work with multiple characters across multiple POVs, in third-person omniscient, which for all I know could be the antithesis of what you write. But regardless of how you write, there are couple of things that will help with endings:


  • Don't resort to copouts. I've been a beta for a number of people, here and in other writing groups, and one thing I've noticed is that when people get to the ending, they start resorting to things that go against the nature of their characters. For example, they'll create a brilliant villain and then turn him/her into a moron to help the story move towards the end. Resist the urge to do this.
  • Don't rush. There is nothing more disconcerting as a reader than coming to the end of a novel and feeling the author rush. I understand why people do it. The ending is so close, you can almost taste it. And you start rushing things to get there -- and it always results in a weak ending.
  • Don't write anything just to get to the ending. If you do, you'll end up editing for days. And spoken by someone who made this mistake, I ended up with a good ending but one that ran counter to almost everything that came before it. You didn't write 'anything' all the way to the ending. Why would you start doing it now?
  • Take your time. Writing a novel is a marathon, no more so than at the end when every fibre in your body is telling you to hurry. Ignore it.
  • Endings don't have to be happy. Sometimes the best endings are gut-punches.
  • When you get to those two blissful words, THE END, put everything away for a while. Come back later and re-read from three or four chapters back from where you started the ending, all the way through, and make sure everything is contiguous and there are no plot holes or inconsistencies.
  • Then, put everything away again for even longer. Come back with fresh eyes and read the whole novel with the ending in your head. Again, search for inconsistencies and/or plot holes.
  • Three things will kill an ending dead: plot holes, character inconsistencies, not enough conflict built throughout the novel to make the ending matter.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I can't really tell you how to finish your novel, but I can tell you how mine come about, in case anything clicks for you.

I have the story in mind (whether outlined or not) and I write up to my climax. I try to make the the situation troubling, and the solution clever, but organic to what readers know about the characters. Then I do some wrap-up, and at some point in the wrap-up I write a line that strikes me as a good ending line. It almost always surprises me, because I haven't planned a last line. There I stop.

I have a lot of practice on the climaxes, because I have several through the book as I resolve critical plot points, then I hit the defining climax at the end.

Ok thanks, that is helpful.

When you write the wrap-up what is crucial? For example: Do you highlight the transformations of characters? Does every MC need to be in the wrap-up? If you have multiple plots, do they need to intersect at this point? If something's are not resolved, do you need to mention it here? What is your main goal in the wrap-up?
 
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