Writing Your First Novel
By Joyce Oroz
As of two days ago, my seventh mystery novel, Scent of a $windle, made it’s début on Amazon and Kindle. It was published by a wonderful publishing house called Cozy Cat Press. I have been writing books for ten years and I’m starting to feel like I’m experienced enough to be able to give advice and encouragement to beginning writers.
Writing is something you can do between other things such as school or work. Chances are you won’t write the most popular, best seller novel right away. It could happen, but most likely you’ll have to study and write, work and write, think and write, keep writing and hope that you will be “published” some day.
I don’t mean to sound bleak, but there are millions of “writers” in this world struggling to get their work noticed and published. It doesn’t matter how fast you write, it matters that you are like the turtle—you don’t give up. Anything worthwhile is worth working your fingers to the bone and then some. But the truth is, writing isn’t “work” if you enjoy doing it.
Write what you know about, your experiences, thoughts, beliefs. If your character is going to the Congo, research the Congo thoroughly. Want to include a fox terrier, research it. Be able to describe its bark, the color and length of its hair and how many fleas on its coat. Convince your readers they are looking at the thing you describe. Make it believable, even if it’s a three-headed toad wearing miss-matched socks.
I have been writing a journal for the last fifteen years. Writing about the day’s events helps me to honor my own life experiences, no matter how minor. Some of those experiences will end up in, or spark an idea for a new mystery story. Your life experiences are all your own. Draw from them in your writing. The habit of writing for five or ten minutes in a journal every evening will help you to form a habit of writing which will carry over to a lifetime of serious writing. Just think, if you wrote one page a day—every day, you would have a 365-page book in one year. Set realistic goals and follow through.
If you are serious about becoming an author, I recommend you take creative writing classes. You will be encouraged by your teacher to write an outline or a time-line of your story before you begin the first chapter. Most writers are able to do this, but not everyone. Of course it’s helpful to know your plot from the beginning, but it’s not always possible. I wish I could come up with an outline, but the plot doesn’t appear for me until I am halfway through the book. Instead of giving up, I learned to create my own methods of writing.
I write mystery stories in an unconventional way. When I am ready to start a new book, I think up a quirky or unusual murder which usually happens in the first chapter. I spend months and chapters trying to figure out who the murderer is and why he did it. I typically create several suspicious characters. Sometimes I don’t decide who the murderer is until I am writing the last few chapters.
Example: In the first sentence of the first chapter of my fifth book, my protagonist’s neighbors’ house blows up in the middle of the night. As I work on page 92, the plot starts to reveal itself to me. I think I know who murdered the neighbor and why. Of course I can always change my mind. My characters tend to lead me where they want to go. And that’s the fun of it! If it’s fun for you, it will most likely be fun for your readers.
I write my books in first person, so it is easy for me to think like the protagonist as she searches for clues. Usually I set up three or four characters who might be the murderer, dropping clues along the way. At some point, I decide who’s guilty, but Josephine and my readers don’t find out until the end of the book. By that time the plot is clear to me and I can push it over finish line.
A few simple rules for writing an interesting book are:
- Set realistic goals and follow through.
- Start the action early so the reader is quickly drawn into the story.
- Everything you write should push the story forward.
- Showing what happens is better than telling what happens.
- Create a good mix of dialogue and narrative.
- Create characters readers will “love to love” and “love to hate.”
- Take Creative Writing classes—daytime, evening—whenever you can.
- Learn to write a perfect query and synopsis.
- Write about what you know and write, write, write!
If your book is published without doing half a dozen rewrites and your walls are not papered with rejections—you are one-in-a-million! Good Luck!!
Author Joyce Oroz