It might seem like it’s hard enough to write a novel and finish it, let alone do a whole lot of extra writing. But this is the age of the “stand out novel” – you’re going to hear that term, and others like it, many times in the coming year. What it means is a novel with depth and resonance, a novel in which characters feel totally real and complex and intriguing, a novel in which the story world is evocative and meaningful. It’s pretty hard to write a novel like that by just sitting down and bashing it out. Often even a few revision passes won’t give your novel the qualities it will need to truly stand out.
I’ve been writing around my novels for years, mostly by way of free writing conversations with my characters. Since studying my MFA at Hamline, I’ve discovered there are many ways to write around your novel. Reading Donald Maass’s book, Writing Twenty-first Century Fiction, has confirmed to me that this “writing around” is what can truly make a difference in how to create depth and complexity in both your story and characters. What does this mean?
It means all the writing you do that doesn’t actually go into your novel. Character work, scene work, description exercises, imaginary scenes, dialogue exercises – they can all contribute. I could just tell you to go do all the stuff in the Maass book, but having tried this myself (!), I realized after a few days that although doing some of those were useful, it’s easy to run out of steam. So I devised a 30-day plan for you. It’s in a PDF so you can print it out or save it. You can either do one every day for 30 days, and then start your novel, or do these alongside your novel writing, or even after you’ve finished your first draft and before you begin a revision. Pick and choose, re-order, do what suits you. I’ve made a list of all the exercises that have worked best for me and my students over the years. Enjoy!