Writing a 100000 word novel / How to Cook a Great Book
Before we begin, I want to warn you. The blog that you are about to read is very very lengthy. It’s going to take time, effort and hard work to read and understand the concepts. But so is writing a full length novel. So if you are ready, roll up your sleeves, let’s get to work!
An American Author, E.L. Doctorow quotes,
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Believe it or not, it works that way. A writer by heart can start something from just one line and end up with a sensational book of 100000 words, with bit by bit approach. If you have it in you, nobody can stop you. You probably don’t need this article to tell you how to write one such book.
Nevertheless, there is another whole lot of budding writers, who want to break into the publishing world, but they don’t know where to begin. This article is for them.
For those who don’t know me, I guess most of you don’t, I love to cook. It has a very simple approach and an easy to break down process. So, what I am going to do is, take a cooking approach to explain the process of writing a novel. Confusing? You’ll see.
So this is how we’ll cook a book:
First – The Cuisine
You need to know the basics of what you are cooking and for whom. To come up with a successful dish, it is essential to understand the taste of your target audience. It’s simple science that kids would love chocolate cake more than poached pears. It’s important to serve your audience what they like. Same goes for books. Books wrote on teenage traumas would be sensational among young adults whereas women’s literature would be appreciated by middle aged ladies, like Sex and the City. Recently in a blog post, Nathan Bransford, author of book JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW explained in his post, How Art Changes With Us
When you read this post, you’ll see what he’s saying about how we change our likes as we grow.
The perception of good, bad and genius, changes from eye to eye. So, it’s vital to know what your readers love to read. Don’t give them a drama when they want thriller.
Tip: Pick a genre and stick with it.
Example: I am going to write a thriller novel.
Second – The Idea
Just like you need to know what you are cooking, you need to know what you are plotting.
You need an idea to start. It’s the hardest part, at least for me. I walk miles before I come up with a great idea. At times, the idea comes to me. Think what the story is about – two people, one girl, a boy or a family. What do these people want and what happens to them how they stopped from getting what they want? Maybe, the hero wants to take the heroine on a picnic and they get on a bus which is hijacked. Now they want to go to the picnic but they can’t. Now they have to fight off the bad guys so that they can get on with the picnic.
It’s a lame idea for a book but I guess you get the idea.
Basically, you need to get a plot ready before you start. Or, you’ll end up with dozen stories in your hard disk that with a short lifespan of not more than a couple of pages.
Tip: Write a short pitch to describe your plot. Your protagonist – his/her/their goal – what’s stopping them (rather who) and how they get it at last.
Example: I have a wonderful plot here. Five important people die in suspicious circumstances, in different parts of the world. A computer hacker, unaware about anything other than technology, comes across a list of these five people and six more only to realize that it is in fact a hit list and the remaining six are going to die in the next six days. How he unearths the conspiracy of one powerful man to take over the world and saves the lives of the six people would form the rest of the story.
Third – The Ingredients
Before you start to cook, you got to have the ingredients. List it down, one by one. Ingredients are nothing by your protagonists, their goals, villains, and major scenes that would make the story complete. Whatever you have in your mind, note it down. If you love your laptop, open up a notepad and type. If you are like me, you’d like to scribble on a real physical notepad and then copy it on your computer. Breakdown the plot into major milestones and mark the important events that will shape your story. Say, you know that your hero and heroine hate each other and you have to make them love each other, think up or rather cook up an event that brings them closer to each other, turning their hatred into sweet romance.
Tip: Write down the title of your book, key characters, opening scene, key events and the ending.
Example: I’d like to call the novel as ‘The Code-breaker’. Matt and Chad are cyber junkies who strive on hacked data from the internet. As a part of their usual heist, they stumble upon a document which contains list of eleven names with their aliases. They think it’s just some random data and dump it away only to find out later, it is a hit list. People from the list start dying mysteriously.
The book opens with a scene where the first target gets killed by a green eyed boy while travelling through Mohave Desert.
1. Matt and Chad find the list.
2. Matt sees the news. People on the list are dying.
3. Chad and Matt decide to check on the remaining people.
4. Hackers can’t go to police.
5. Decide to find the killer themselves.
6. Matt and Chad spot the Green eyed killer, Liam and see him making his next kill.
7. Matt and Chad runaway and Move to the next target.
35. Matt faces the final faceoff with Liam, saves Chad, and kills of Liam. Police arrives on scene and gives a clean chit to Matt and Chad with a bravery award.
I think you get the idea of how to work on the ingredients.
Fourth – Quantity
Since we are trying to cook something as huge as 100000 words, we need to take care of the proportion. A little more or less is fine, but if you are trying to write a thriller novel, it should at least be something close to hundred thousand. Writing a fifty thousand would not do the work. And writing two hundred thousand would be even worse. Publishers are sceptic when it comes to such big numbers. They have to worry about printing, editing and too long is just too much to handle. So we need to give them something about the right size.
So, the question is, how to make sure the number of words you write, is just about hundred thousand. How do you do it when you have to cook it for a large number of people?
Simple. You come with a proportionate quantity for one person and multiply it with the number of people. That’s what we’ll do it here.
With 35 chapters and 3000 words in each chapter, we end up with 105000 word novel. Just about right. Editing will reduce lots of words so if you come up with an initial draft of 110000 or 120000 words, you are doing good.
Tip: Manage a workbook and keep track of the number of words you have written and number of words to write before touching the one hundred thousand mark.
Fifth – The Technique
I see this as the most important part of a book. Before you pen down your story, you need to be clear on the techniques.
Point of View or POV, edges out the way your readers see the story. If you are writing the book from your protagonists POV, you need to write the scenes as he would see it and describe it as happening.
You need to make up your mind if it’s going to be a single POV novel or multiple. In a single POV novel, everything is seen through the protagonists (usually) mind. The readers will know only what the central character knows. So, if Liam is planning to kidnap Chad, readers will not find out about the plan unless Matt knows about it. If readers can see something, when Matt is not present in the scene, then it is a multiple POV novel. But the main thing to consider here is that there has to be a POV character.
Liam looked at the half chewed cigar lying in dust and smirked at it. Harrison was not far away. He walked ahead, staring at the ground, looking for footprints. He knew the target was not stupid enough, but people do crazy stuff when they are scared.
Here, in example 1, we are hearing what Liam is exactly thinking in his mind. The readers won’t know if Harrison is hiding behind the brick wall, ready to attack, unless Liam sees it. The language, the tone, the words, all should be how the character would say it. We should forget our language and speak as the character would. There is a reason why it’s called point of view.
“I don’t believe you,” Carrie said.
“I know,” Matt said. She didn’t have to. He just wanted her to run along with him. He knew she’d understand once they reached the port. She’d have to believe him then.
“I hate you,” she wanted to say but the words were giving her a hard time.
Can you point out the problem in example 2?
It switches POV within the same scene. It is the biggest blunder you should avoid. When the readers are seeing through Matt’s head, they can’t know that Carrie wanted to say, ‘I hate you’. This is a typical example of what not do even, even in a multiple POV novel. Remember the basic rule, one POV per scene!
Most writers have a favourite narrative choice. It’s is either first person narration or third person narration.
First person narration:
He seemed to have spotted me but he still chose to ignore. Was he playing fool or was he really that dumb? I moved around a little, to see if he followed, but he didn’t.
Third person narration:
He seemed to have spotted Matt but he still chose to ignore. Was he playing fool or was he really that dumb. Matt moved around a little, to see if he followed, but he didn’t.
I personally prefer the traditional third person narration. Its individual choice and depends on your own discretion.
3. Scene breaks
Adding proper scene breaks is as essential as your plot. Your readers should never be confused about what happened and then what?
How did he come here? Make the scene break gradually. Many times, writers prefer ending a scene with a cliff-hanger. Now don’t ask me what that is. You gotta know a cliff hanger. Remember those soaps where someone knocks the door and the hero opens only to leave him wide mouthed with that ‘Whoa’ expression and the episode ends and you think, who is that?
I prefer cliff hangers on a chapter break rather than a scene break. A scene break is needed to jump from one part of the story to another to skip the unwanted stuff. Now suppose your hero wants to go for an interview and he is getting ready. You will show how he gets a cab, talks with the cabby and pays him off, gives a little tip and climbs up the elevator and finds the office on thirteenth floor.
Its okay if the elevator plays some role in the book later or cabby is going to help our hero sometime later or the tip that he gave had some vital information. But if it’s not, don’t bore your readers with this. That’s not what they want to read. They want to read the story
But then what do we do?
We put a scene break.
“How long do we wait?” Chad asked, pricking his cheek.
It was an irritating habit of Chad that left him with so many pimples.
Matt brushed his hands away from his face and said, “Stop it. We’ll wait the whole day if we have to.”
They looked at the strangers walking in and out of the door, screening for the green eyed boy they had seen the day before.
Hours had passed since they even got up or even moved a muscle. Matt was about to doze off when his eyes spotted the boy they had been looking for. He grabbed Chad by his collar and shook him up.
“He’s here,” he whispered.
Matt found himself behind the wall, just inches away from Liam. He silently let out a breath. The pain was killing him. He could hear Liam’s footsteps moving to his side of the wall. He had to get out of there, but how. His blurry vision was not letting him see anything.
He heard a gunshot and wham.
We put the scene break here. We use this place to put a scene break because Matt is unconscious. We cannot show what happened. We either need to switch POV if we want to see what Liam did to him or start from the place when Matt wakes up.
4. Character Sketch
It’s important for you, as a writer, to know about your character. Of course you know the name, and you know his future. But do you know his past. What does he do when he is not in your novel? How he starts his day? Does he smoke? What kind of clothes he wear? To really understand your character, I do what I call, a character workshop.
Take a notepad and list down what your character would do on a typical Monday. Wake up, bathe, dress up, go to work, call some friends, chat online, have lunch, work, go home, have dinner, go to sleep, all those routine things any person does and more importantly, what your character does. When you really know who your character is, you’ll not have difficulty writing a story about him.
Now you have everything ready to start cooking the dish. Everything right?
But, wait! Where is the recipe?
Scroll up and take a look. We have the entire recipe to cook. We first targeted the cuisine, then a basic idea for the dish, the ingredients, the quantity and our technique.
Now that we have everything in place, let’s start cooking.