5 Tips for writing your first novel

Hey awesome writers, this is for you!

I’ve been awol again for the last month or so now but I promise I am back for good. Please, pardon my inconsistencies of late.

To make up for my lapses, I wrote this especially for new writers struggling to write their first novels. I hope this helps you figure out all the kinks. Do let me know in the comment section if it was worth your while. Ciao…



Start with what you know

Yes, I know it sounds simplistic but the fact is it is better to start with what you are familiar with rather than what will give you plenty headache. Note though, I said start. The keyword here is start, you don’t have to continue that way.

You can start with something very close to home. A story you’ve heard from a particular source or something that happened to someone in your circle of influence. It could be a story you heard a friend tell or something your mother told you about your uncle’s wild days. It could be anything, but make sure it is something you are very familiar with.

When you start with what you know, it becomes more difficult to become entangled in the middle of your story. You know sometimes you start a story and then you get to a point where you are stuck, you don’t know where the story is going and then you have to retrace your footsteps back to the beginning (this happened to me recently, and believe me you don’t want it happening to you). So, start with what you know, what you are familiar with, and build from there.

When I wrote my first novel, I wished I had this knowledge then. I wrote about a country I was totally unfamiliar with, a country I had never visited. Writing the novel was a bit stressful because I had to keep thinking up imaginary places and names, and the end result was not too encouraging. The story itself was great but the execution left a lot to be desired. Now, I know better.

So, dear writer, start with what you are familiar and comfortable with. This way, you are sure of churning out a masterpiece in your first try (but then, don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen).


Simple is always sexy

Simplicity is the key to a great novel. I’m not of the school of thought that you have to wax poetic or quote big grammar before your work can be exceptional. I admire writers like Chimamanda Adichie because it seems she had adopted this philosophy. Her novels are very simply written, yet breathtaking in that simplicity. In fact, most of the writers I have admired and look up to write in such simple forms.

Simple can be the smart way to go especially for a beginner. If you’re someone who likes using big and ambiguous words, by all means got for it, but make these entries very minimal. You don’t want to overwhelm your reader with big words while they lose the essence of your story. Remember, you are trying to make that reader a die-hard fan, so you need a work that will draw them in rather than repel them.

Make your words simple and straightforward, your story-line strong but engaging and your approach very professional.


Research is key

While writing a book, never assume anything. Great writers do not take things with levity. Granted, it’s supposed to be fiction, therefore majority of your work should come from your imagination, but in cases where you need to insert facts or truths, make sure they are facts and truths.

If you need to write about a particular culture for instance, do your research well and make sure you write succinct facts about that culture. Remember, your readers are humans and not robots and some of them have these experiences already. While writing, you should make sure they know you know what you are talking about, rather than just making things up as you go.

Go on the internet. There is virtually nothing you are looking for that you won’t find there. Spend time to work it out, even if what you are looking for would only take a sentence out of the whole book.

I once wrote a short story in which my main character was a lawyer. I’m not a lawyer but I had to write a particular chapter where law terms would be used. What did I do? I sought out a barrister friend who helped me out with my work. One of the comments I got from readers was that did I study law in school? This told me I did my job very well and that I was convincing. What am I saying? If you don’t know what to do, then, find the person who does.

Same applies to particular characters, destinations, places, or happenstance in history. Never assume, and never prevaricate.


Bigger is not always better

Yes, sometimes a much smaller person can pack a stronger punch. It’s not about size, but sense; not about quantity, but quality.

Sometimes, when we are just starting out, we want to start big and with a bang. What crosses your mind is, ‘oh I want my first novel to be about 1000 pages’, ‘oh I want to write a fantasy novel set in mars’, ‘oh my first work is going to be about robots and mermaids coexisting in harmony’ (if you have the imagination for this, by all means go for it). But, the fact is, most times we end up biting much more than we can chew.

Simplicity also comes in here. Write on what your imagination can carry. Don’t try to be Suzanne Collins when you only have the imagination of (insert your name here). Learn to stay in your lane.

Again, you don’t have to write a novel of humongous proportions. Start small, and then build on it. There is nothing stopping you from writing a novella of no more than 100 pages first, as long as this novella packs a punch. My first work can only be classified as a novella. In fact, in my many years of writing, I can say I’ve written a lot of novellas, but just two novels.

See, you don’t have to start bigger than you can handle.


Let your characters breathe

Before I leave you, I have to write on this point. Your characters are the backbone of your story, so spend time to develop strong characters that will stay in the mind of your readers. Never present to them a character with a watery personality or someone they would forget in the next minute. Spend time developing your characters.

What do I mean by letting them breathe? Give them time to come out of their shell, introduce them to your readers slowly and not in leaps and bounds. Let them grow into your story as you weave your plot and let them be real. Superman is great, but how many people can relate with his superhuman strength?

When you create characters that readers can see in themselves, or in their siblings, or in their neighbors, these characters will keep resonating in their minds and they won’t forget them easily.


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