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Top five tips for writing your first novel

Penning a novel often appears on the aspirational bucket list but it can seem like a daunting prospect with an empty word document flashing

To coincide with the start of National Novel Writing Month here are five top tips for writing your first novel from Adam Lively, leader of Middlesex University London’s MA Novel Writing programme:

  1. Take Inspiration From Anywhere. It’s not true that you should only write about what you know: you can also write about what you don’t know but want to find out about. Ideas for fiction can come from any and all areas of your experience – personal memory, observation, reading, day-dream. Many creative possibilities can arise from combining ideas from disparate areas of your experience.
  2. Think About Your Direction Of Travel. Depending on how plot-intensive your novel is, a detailed synopsis may or may not be necessary. What is necessary is that you have an idea of its shape and direction, with the major dramatic landmarks mapped out in your mind. Think of your novel as a landscape spread out before you: you may not know in advance every twist and turn through the undergrowth that you will make along the way, but you have a picture of the lay of the land, its valleys and hills.
  3. You Don’t Have To Start At The Beginning. To start in media res, in the heart of the action, is a fictional technique that goes back to Homer. The filling in of the backstory, through the memories or discoveries of the characters, then becomes part of the story, enriching it. Readers hate having everything spelt out to them at once: controlling the drip of information is a vital means of provoking the reader’s curiosity.
  4. Set Up Questions in the Reader’s Mind. People turn the pages of a novel because they want answers to questions that have come to mean something to them. Perhaps it is a mystery of some kind: what is the author withholding from me? Or perhaps there is some element of suspense: what is going to happen to this character with whom I identify? Curiosity and suspense, along with surprise, are the most basic sources of reader enjoyment.
  5. Enjoy the Process! Writer and reader make contact through their shared enjoyment of a journey of discovery. A book (or kindle) may be a thing you hold in your hands, but a novel is not really a thing at all: it’s a process passing through the imaginations of writers and readers alike. So enjoy the process, and carry the reader with you.

Middlesex University London’s fully online Masters degree enables you to develop your novel at your own pace, at times to suit your lifestyle, from anywhere in the world. You will be supported throughout by our acclaimed novelists, who are experienced creative writing lecturers with valuable industry links.

Find out more about Novel writing at Middlesex: https://www.mdx.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/novel-writing


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