Writing your novel – The procrastination phase


As I said yesterday there is a saying that ‘everyone has a novel in them.’ However, it is only a handful of people who do anything about it. Most budding writers are in the procrastination phase and there are a few quick things you can do in order to move on to the next phase – acceleration.

I’m not a big one for planning as I like to just get stuck in, sometimes to my detriment, yet it’s more fun that way. Besides I’ve always believed that planning is just another word for procrastination. However, in the spirit of learn from your mistakes I realised after novel one took me three years that I could have saved a lot of time if I’d done a bit of planning to start. The sort of planning which also motivates you to keep going.

Beginning, middle and end – It helps with most goals in life to start with the destination or end point. It’s the same with a novel. My novels are dark comedy whodunits so before I write a single word I know who the murderer is and also why they did it. Your main central plot cannot be left to chance and you should never wing it. Having an end point to work towards keeps you focussed and means you won’t go off on random tangents which add nothing to the story. Take it from someone who had to cut 15,000 utterly hilarious (in my opinion) words in the first draft of a novel.

You also need an explosive start, rather than a detailed exploratory narrative like the good old days, unless you’re writing literary fiction and then you have more words to play with. Remember though that the majority of agents will only want to see the first three chapters, which is roughly the sample size potential readers can view for free on Amazon. Regardless of audience or genre, you need to draw people in – quickly.

Remember the lull you get in the middle of a lot of novels that can make you lose interest and not finish? Don’t make the same mistake with your readers. You want to have people cursing you for keeping them up past midnight, as they have to get to the end. Make the middle as exciting as your first page.

Believable characters – Your characters should evoke strong emotional responses from readers, whether that’s the emotion you were aiming for or not. You can’t predict how people will react to your characters, just like in real life in that we all like and dislike different people.

Write a bio for every main character which includes:

  • their physical appearance,
  • characteristics,
  • their history,
  • likes and dislikes
  • motivations (this one is the most important)
  • Things that might say
  • How they would react in a certain situation (and keep this situation the same for all your primary characters)

If you’re struggling with the any of these, you have a couple of options. First just look at the people around you – family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. What do you like or dislike about someone? Cherry pick the best and worst parts and mould them into characters – not doppelgangers. Throw in touch of embellishment and you’re done.

Alternatively, my approach is to sit in a coffee shop and quietly observe people as they interact, or put my headphones in, pretending to listen to music, whilst I covertly earwig on people talking in an elevator and other variations of the same thing.

Take this information and do the following:

  • create a one page character template
  • use bullet points so it’s easy to check things as you’re writing
  • compare them – if you have too many similarities then change things
  • remember to go for characters not caricatures – unless you’re writing satire!

The bios also help with avoiding continuity blunders so characters don’t suddenly change their appearance or behaviour randomly throughout the novel, or novels if you’re planning a series.

Chapter plan – This doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed, just sketch out what will happen in each chapter and which characters will be involved. This may change when you start, yet it will give you a framework to write within. I also find it helps with keeping the momentum going. I prefer to write short chapters so I can write in chapter blocks. My logic is 40 chapters’ mean roughly 2,000 words a chapter. This is a technique which works for me and keeps me writing at a steady pace. If you write five chapters a week, your first draft could be complete in two months.

Tomorrow we move on to my favourite part – The Acceleration Phase. So, stop procrastinating and just do it!

About Nick Lennon-Barrett

Originally from North-West, England, moving to London as an adult and carving out a career as an HR and L&D professional. The writing bug was always there as a child, yet it wasn't until my 30s that I finally did something about it. The joy of working in HR is that you're never short of character inspiration! I'm an enthusiast of both crime and comedy fiction so when I decided to write my first novel my aim was to combine these two genres tackling topical issues in a dark comedy murder mystery. This was the start of the DCI Fenton Murder Trilogy.
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