Writing your first novel

I love books and I enjoy writing. It was this passion that made me embark on a literary adventure and write a book. Here are a few things I learnt as I penned my debut novel, De’Angelo’s Orchestra, which was picked up by a literary agency.

Be yourself

When I first started writing I was unconsciously trying to imitate my favourite authors. However I soon realised how inauthentic that voice sounded when it failed to resonate with me. Then I tried trusting my own voice and the writing began to flow with a natural ease and rhythm.

Hear yourself

I hadn’t noticed how dry and unwieldy some of the writing was until I started reading it out loud – The energy gushed out of the prose like ink from a cracked cartridge. There were two key reasons for this. The writing was predominately passive and there was way too much description. So I switched to active prose and started using adjectives with discernment.

Reading dialogue aloud was particularly helpful. It highlighted stilted and unrealistic conversation.

Speak for yourself

Another challenge with dialogue was making it sound unique to each character. For this I needed to fully develop the characters. Once they had their own individual personalities, backgrounds and belief systems, they were able to speak for themselves in their own particular style.

Trust yourself

After many hours of writing and re-writing the first chapter, I was still dissatisfied. Why? Because I was too preoccupied with what the reader might think of it. After all, the first chapter, not to mention that dreaded first sentence, makes or breaks a novel. Or so I believed…

Eventually I came to the realisation that I will never complete a single page of the book if I continued to second guess the readers. Their preferences, like mine, would be subjective and no one size is ever going to fit all. So I stopped worrying about the readers and just allowed creativity to flow.

Free yourself

I had rammed the original version of the book with plots and twists. However, exhilarating as the novel was, it was also unexpectedly exhausting to read – As plot point followed plot point hard and fast, there was literally no breathing space. Even I was gasping for air. It was clear I had to stop manipulating the pace of the story.

I decided to hand the reins over to the characters and let them drive instead. Lo and behold their story began to flow naturally. Like the waxing and waning of the moon, the arcs built and subsided in very satisfying fashion.

Balance yourself

Another issue I’d found with the original, plot driven approach was that the characters had remained relatively under developed. I had apparently focussed too much on the plot and not enough on the characters themselves. As a result they seemed wooden. I had obviously underestimated the level of detail required to bring a character to life…

I tested giving my conceptual characters free will to be whatever they wanted to be. Like magic the characters morphed into fully fledged beings right before my eyes. Now I was able to resonate with them at an emotional, mental and spiritual level.

Educate yourself

Though I have always written stories, it wasn’t until I did a creative writing course that I learnt to discern between good and great storytelling. Technical and creative rigour are essential to crafting enduring tales. In an attempt to master these disciplines, I practiced, practiced, practiced and then practiced some more.

Ultimately I discovered that one never fully masters creativity – One can only submit to its infinite magnificence and become its pliable instrument so it can work through us.










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