• Helen Phifer

Writing a Full Length Novel

My name is Helen Phifer and I’m a writer. Wow, it took eight years before I had the confidence to say that to people. I’ve been thinking a lot, so much so that I woke up at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I keep seeing posts from people on social media asking for advice on how to write or finish a book. How to keep going even when it gets tough and trust me it does get tough. I know this from the countless edits and rewrites I’ve had to do over the years to get my stories to a publishable standard. These can be anything to a couple of pages of edits, to entire rewrites. Rewrites so intense that I’ve ended up with a completely different book to the one I originally submitted. When I finally found a publisher for The Ghost House I had to rewrite the entire book three times before the wonderful editor who loved it could take it to the acquisitions team. I owe that editor so much, she completely believed in my book as much as I did and worked with me to get it to a good enough standard.

My first book took me eight years from the initial concept and flurry of ideas to seeing it published. It was a long eight years, for the first four or five I stumbled along. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was writing because I wanted to. I was writing for my own pleasure because I couldn’t find enough of the stories that I wanted to read. I had no pressure of deadlines, edits, marketing and looking back it was a wonderful time. That I got to spend what little free time working on a story which I loved was the best hobby in the world.

Writing Tips

· The most important part of writing a novel or in fact any book is to get a first draft written down. It doesn’t matter about spelling, punctuation or research. Don’t break off to spend days on research unless it’s vital. Just get the bones of your story down and saved on the computer. You can go back and tidy it up on your second draft because it will need a second draft, even a third, fourth, fifth and if it does that’s fine. You can worry about it later. What I do if there’s something that I’m not sure about is to highlight it and make a note of it. For example, Page 15 –What protective clothing do CSI’s wear to examine a crime scene?

· Write the story that you want to write. This is a biggie, in fact it’s huge. When I wrote my first novel The Ghost House it took me eight years from concept to publication, but I loved it. It made me excited to carry on writing it no matter how difficult it got. Brainstorm your ideas on a large sheet of paper, I did this for book two and it was very helpful.

· Ask yourself what is this story about? Why is it so important to me? How can I make it different to all the millions of books already out there? The thing is we’re all different and have our own natural style of writing. So even if you think that idea you’ve been milling around in your head has been done before, it might have. But not by you, you’ll have your own unique voice and way of storytelling.

· Who are your characters? It’s your characters who drive the plot. It helps if you know who you want to write about and why. Annie Graham came to me whilst walking the dog through the woods. I wanted to write a story about a tough, kick ass, yet vulnerable police woman with her own share of personal problems. I wanted her to be a woman that readers could identify with and thankfully they did. In fact, they loved her.

· Plot – something must happen to someone to make a story. What is it that you want to happen to your characters? A woman falling into an empty well and needing rescuing is a basic plot. For me it was, nice policewoman becomes the next name on a serial killers list. Or an orphaned boy escapes from a cupboard to go to a boarding school for wizards. There’s no denying it’s hard to write an 85,000 word novel if you don’t have a basic plot in sight.

· Make yourself a plot board, this I’m a huge fan of. I love procrastinating and it’s something that I do very well. I cut out pictures from magazines or print them out off Google of what my characters might look like. Their hair colour, clothes, what car they drive, where they live, etc. I find this a huge help when writing about them, it helps you to picture them in your mind and bring them to life.

· You need to know what it is that’s motivating your characters. Is it love, money, greed? For me it’s generally survival, loyalty, honour, curiosity, hate, death, pain, rejection, vengeance, failure.

· If you do get stuck and haven’t got a clue what’s going to happen next, then take a break. Things I ask myself are. Can I bring in a new character? Can I kill someone? (This is a favourite of mine) Can I bring in a little bit of romance, a love interest, a love triangle? Can I break one of my characters hearts? Can I bring in some drama, conflict or an argument? Is there a jaw dropping revelation I can add?

· I’ve already mentioned this, but saving your work is imperative. I save mine as often as I remember, not just to the computer as well. I’ve had computers break with stories on them that I’ve been unable to retrieve. Pen drives and emailing a copy to yourself are both excellent ways to do this.

Everybody works differently and we all have our own ways of writing. All the above are the tips I use to write a full length novel and I hope you find some of them useful. Good luck with your writing and whatever you do remember that a published writer is only an amateur who never gave up.

Helen xx

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