Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Three Strategies to Finish Your Novel

Are you busy? Inundated with shopping, gift wrapping, cookie baking, and parties? Planning dinner around holiday concerts at school and caroling with your church family? Not to worry. It happens. Every year it happens.

If you are a writer, it is easy to allow your writing time to be snatched away with a whispered promise of “tomorrow.” Tomorrow quickly turns into “next week” and next week becomes “after the holidays.”

If you participated in the month long writing event in November you already know there is more work to do on your novel. Today’s blog is aimed at giving you three next-step-strategies to keep your writing moving in the right direction during this busy holiday season. Trust me, if you do even one of these, your January will look much brighter.

Strategy One: We’ll start with the easiest one first. Write out three specific tasks you need in order to move forward in crafting your novel then choose one to complete before the new year. Here are my three:

ü Physically draw a map of the area where the story takes place. I need this because I discovered I have a few problems with some of the logistics in my story. I need this map to help me make sense of what happens when.
ü Research Americanized German surnames. I have a family in my novel whose roots are German. I put a placeholder name in as I drafted the story. Now I see that their German heritage is important to the story so I want to find a name for them. Stopping to do this when I was in the midst of writing would have slowed me down. Now I can take a few minutes to do the research and choose an appropriate surname fo the family.
ü Create a list of farm chores for my main character to do. Repair a fence, replace the screen on the door, fix a tractor. You get the idea. I need activities my character can do while he’s talking or daydreaming or planning his next move.

I don’t need to write all of these elements into my manuscript right now but keeping the story at the forefront of my mind, will keep my momentum going, even through the holidays.

Strategy Two: Grab your 2017 calendar and make appointments with yourself during the first two weeks of January. These appointments are specific times to read, write, edit, and/or revise. These tasks will get you back into your story.  Block at least two appointments with yourself each of those first two weeks in January. KEEP THE APPOINTMENT!

Here is an example from my calendar: For my first appointment, January 3rd, I’m going to use the search and replace feature on Word to put the new surname I chose for the family of German heritage.

Put some thought into this. You want to use your time wisely. You also need to plan blocks of time so you’ll be able to read passages and make edits as needed or various revisions. This is where I know I’ll be using the map of the area I created.

Strategy Three:  This one is a little tricky and requires more time. Trust me though it’s worth it. It requires you to think about your final project. A full-length novel will range from 80,000 to 100,000 words or so. A short novel will be somewhere around 40,000 to 75,000 words or so. A novella is shorter. Different publishers have differing ideas concerning the numbers. These are ballpark figures to guide you.

If you wrote 50,000 words in November and you intend to craft a full-length novel, you are roughly half way to completion. If you intended a short novel you may be ready to begin the final revision process.

The third strategy to keep the momentum going is to use a writing template to measure your progress. There are several plot templates out there. Some suggest, for example, that the first act takes place in the first twenty percent (20%) of your story, the second act develops over the next sixty percent (60%), climaxing at about the seventy-five percent (75%) mark and then finishing out act three in the remaining twenty to twenty-five percent (20%-25%) of the book. Certain events need to take place in each act. For example, the problem should make itself apparent in Act 1. You can learn more about these markers of what happens when. If you are not familiar with plot and structure guidelines, I suggest you read some of the how-to books or articles on the subject. Find what makes sense to you. There are several excellent posts on and on Take your projected final word count, apply the math and then go into your manuscript to that section to see if your story is developing as it should.

Enjoying the company
of James Scott Bell.
I use James Scott Bell’s book Super Structure as a template. I’ve written about this book and the signposts in earlier blog posts. In essence, I use the template as an overlay. Let’s use one of the signposts as an example. Bell asserts that almost exactly smack dab in the middle of every good book or movie, the main character, either literally or figuratively looks in the mirror and comes face-to-face with his or her inner self.

I am drafting a 90,000 word book so I can look at the manuscript I’ve created, go to the section around 45,000 words and see if I have a mirror moment. If I do—great. If not, I need to find it or create it and see what revisions I need to bring that moment closer to the middle.

My visual for this is akin to a physical overlay where my manuscript is laying out on the table and I somehow magically roll out a plastic template with all the signposts on it. I picture myself looking through the plastic film and literally see how my structure measures up. Of course that is impossible, but it is how I see this tool in my mind.

I look forward to hearing from you. What strategy calls your name? Do you have another tool you employ to keep your writing moving forward even when you’re busy?

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Waters approximately how long should each chapter be in an 80,000 word novel? :-) Thank you!


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