The problem with being a published author is that friends sometimes assume I know what I’m doing. I don’t. But I am learning. So here is a list of things I’ve learned about how not to write a novel:
- Don’t write what you don’t know. My first novel, written in elementary school, included a woman getting pregnant and giving birth six weeks later. I suspect if I’d had any readers they might have said this couldn’t be true.
- Don’t tell your characters to go away. In high school and young adulthood I still wanted to write. But every time I started a novel this character, someone awfully like me, demanded I let her take over. I didn’t want to write about her. I wished she’d go away, but of course, she wouldn’t. Characters rarely obey.
- Don’t write about yourself. Hoping to dispel my intrusive stranger, I tried my hand at autobiography. It didn’t work. She was there again, complaining, “No, that’s you. It didn’t happen that way to me.” I gave up and wrote her story instead, and learned a lot from her. Later she introduced me to someone else, a character in my first-ever published novel, and at last she stepped aside. Thus Infinite Sum was born.
- Don’t forget the timeline. But that was later. Before then I gave up on writing novels, assuming they’d need too much time. I stuck to short stories–tons of them–where the same set of characters kept reappearing and meeting over again. One of these turned out to be a murderer, much to my surprise (probably his as well), at which point I decided to stick the stories together into a novel. All went well until my wonderful editor pointed out that one sister aged two years while the other didn’t change. Time for a timeline! Lesson learned.
- Don’t expect it to sell. Still dreaming, I still hope that first novel might turn into the start of something spectacular. It’s called Divide by Zero. It’s a tapestry of small town lives woven around a small town singularity. It’s moderately invisible on Amazon. But…
- Don’t stop writing, because the more novels you have out there, the better chance you have that one might sell. (That’s the mathematician in me, checking out the odds…)
- Don’t write in first person. They told me that long ago and it was easy when I wove Divide by Zero together. With so many characters each chapter clearly belonged to someone else–first person would have been hopelessly confusing. But my second novel was different. My character wanted to tell her tale her way, which meant I had to make sure I wrote in her voice and never mine. Harder work than I expected.
- Don’t write from multiple points of view. I didn’t hear this instruction until too late. Divide by Zero was inherently created from multiple points of view. But Infinite Sum enjoys just one narrator (yes, first person), so it’s more straight forward. Then comes my third novel, with two viewpoints warring, and a cat. It’s called Subtraction, and it due for release on August first.
- Don’t try to change the time and place. With Subtraction speeding toward release, I’m working on novel number four. In its first life this one was set somewhere else with different characters living in a different time. Now I’m reworking it for the Mathemafiction Series. I have to check up when people started using cell phones, computers, reading online, wearing different clothes… Whatever possessed me to think I could do this? (The characters, of course. They insisted I’d got everything wrong first time.)
- And finally don’t rewrite before rereading. Sadly, I needed that piece of advice before Imaginary Numbers took over my life. I don’t even remember where the plotline is meant to go. But the characters aren’t concerned. They assure me they’ll take the right way this time, implying, of course, that I got it so terribly wrong before. They’re bossy, my characters. And they really don’t care one jot about my flagging self-esteem.
So those are my ten don’ts. And now for my dos.
- Do read.
- Do write.
- Do listen.
- Do let someone else read what you’re writing.
- Then listen well to their advice. It’s sure to be better than mine.
Sheila Deeth is the author of the Mathemafiction Novels, published by Indigo Sea Press. Her first novel, Divide by Zero, weaves a tapestry of small town lives around a singular death. The second book, Infinite Sum, presents the story of a wounded woman finding a path through the infinite sum of troubles in her past. Book three, Subtraction, will be released on August 1st. It tells how a man who’s lost everything might seek a missing child and find himself. And in Imaginary Numbers… Who knows? The novels explore guilt and forgiveness, and Sheila begs your forgiveness for her inability to tell where Imaginary Numbers will go.