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Writing the Novel by the Numbers

Mar 6, 2019 | FICTION, Plotting

(But it’s not all that easy)

By Jack Bludis awa Jack Burns

Originally titled: Mystery by the Numbers

In answer to the question about how novels get written:

There are several ways to write a novel, one is to wing it, which works if you’ve done a lot of reading and a lot of writing. Another is to do bits and pieces and string them together, this works too, but it can drive you crazy.

Most how-to books are aimed at the novice or even at the storywriter who has not yet taken on the novel.

The basics are simple — and this is how I usually do it:

  1.  Create the lead character and show him or her in action in the opening sentence — usually with some dialogue. This gets the story started. (Some [writers] may want to do a background biography of the lead character, but I usually create characters whose bios come out in the writing.)
  2.  Once you have a few characters and know where the story is going, do an outline. (I usually do the outline after I’ve done about fifty pages, maybe after three or four pages of story..)
  3.  Break the outline into chapters or sections. (It’s a good idea to have key dramatic events in the beginning, and at the 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 marks of the story.)
  4.  Write the book, following the outline as best you can, but allow for interesting sidebars which may become subplots or even major plot incidents that enhance the entire work.
  5.  When you’ve done your first draft, go through it again, moving scenes for dramatic effect. In the case of the mystery, make sure you plant all the clues and red herrings you need. In other genre, make sure the required genre incidents are properly spaced. Romance novels usually don’t have a love scene on every page. Nor is the historical novel a simple recitation of fact.
  6.  Rewrite the novel with the [scene] changes. This is not necessarily a complete rewrite if you are using a computer or word processor. But, you must go through it from the first the the last page to assure consistency. [You don’t want to hold Aunt Martha’s funeral in chapter three and find her alive and well, and talking to the hero in chapter 9.]
  7.  When you’re finished, polish, polish, polish. Make it the best book you can make it — but don’t be obsessive.
  8.  Proof read like it’s a composition in English 101, for which you must get a perfect grade.
  9.  Send it out.
  10. If it gets rejected, send it out — again and again and again. Step #9 and #10 are the lesson it took me years to learn.

This may not be the best way for everybody to write a novel, but it is how I do it; and I am sure it will work for others.


The Big Switch by Jack Bludis (not by Jack Burns)  It’s the first time he’s using his true name on a piece. He wrote that he doesn’t mind being known by both names, but if you look for The Big Switch at your local book store, check under the Bludis name. The Big Switch be available in July at bookstores, at Amazon and B&N on the net. (He’d prefer you to ask your local book stores about it before you buy it on the net.)

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