Recently I was called upon to give some advice to a beginning fiction writer. In reading through his first several chapters, I was reminded of the journey a writer takes as they learn the craft. When I first thought about writing a novel, I figured it was just taking the day-to-day happenings of a cast of characters, transcribing them to paper, and waiting on the street corner for a publisher to stop by, much as one waits for a taxi. How wrong can one person be?
Those of you who are already established on this road will find this review brings back memories. If your journey is in its first stages, I hope this helps.
Begin with plot. Decide what's going to happen and how you can make it interesting. The best resource I can recommend in this area is James Scott Bell's book, Plot and Structure. Not only is it excellent for the neophyte, I firmly believe that every novelist should review it periodically. Then populate your novel with interesting characters. For this, read Brandilyn Collins' book, Getting Into Character. Guard against "head-hopping" or shifting points of view. For this, try Mastering Point of View by Szeman. For more insight into story arc, consider this book, one I only learned about recently: The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. You'll also get help from all of Noah Lukeman's books, but especially The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens.
Now you have your plot, your characters, and your story arc. Write, revise, write, revise, repeat as needed. No one--I repeat, no one--just pops out a novel without sweat, tears, and many revisions. For this you'll need to consult the classic The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. To spice up your punctuation, it's back to Lukeman, this time for A Dash of Style. For that final rewrite, read Donald Maass' Writing The Breakout Novel. And watch for James Scott Bell's forthcoming book, Revision and Self-Editing.
Is that all? Of course not. If you're down about your writing, read Bird By Bird by Ann Lamott. Read Stephen King's King on Writing. Had enough? Probably so, but there are another dozen or more writing books on my bookshelf, and there's no dust on any of them.
Two last bits of advice. Read. Read the works of authors whose fiction you admire. My friend, Alton Gansky, told me, "Once you start writing, you'll never read the same way again." That's true. See how they do it. That's one way to learn. Then write. Nolan Ryan didn't become the best strikeout pitcher in the major leagues by reading about it. He practiced. A lot. So should you.
Don't be scared to fail. We all do. Failing isn't terrible. Not trying is. Write on.