Top 3 Tips for Writing Your First Novel


You’ve finished a dozen good short stories and now you mean business! You’re going to try your hand at a novel. Before you set out into uncharted territory, here are a few things to consider:

1) Keep it short.

You don’t have to write Infinite Jest or War and Peace your first time out. With eReaders, novellas (20,000-50,000 words) are back en vogue. By setting a word-count goal that is easier to achieve, you’ll be sure to put all the best stuff into your book.

2) Keep the plot simple.

George R.R. Martin may be in the middle of writing an epic 7-book fantasy series with dozens of main characters spread out across two giant continents, but that doesn’t mean your work has to be so complex!

If you need to enlist an intern to check your plot’s continuity you may be overreaching for your first novel. Maybe a miniature intrigue (something along the lines of a Seinfeld episode) would suffice? Also, limit the number of characters and settings, but make them come alive. It will help you stay focused and your first book will be all the richer for it.

3) Keep the style consistent.

You may have it in you to write the next Ulysses or As I Lay Dying, but wait until you’ve got at least one novel under your belt first. The style and voice of your debut book should be compelling and unique, but also somewhat uniform. Don’t skip around from tone to tone or voice to voice.

Of course you should always write the way you want to, so feel free to ignore any of this advice– but I recommend you not set overly ambitious goals for your first novel. By keeping your book short, simple, and stylistically consistent, you’ll more fully inhabit the world you’re creating while you write, making that world all the more real for readers, too.


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Chris Robley
Chris Robley is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."



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