Theresa Hupp and I have connected on many occasions – sharing the writer’s journey and empathizing with one another over the challenges we’ve faced. When I saw she was giving a talk on What I Wish I’d Known Before I Wrote a Novel, I immediately asked her to share her insights. Over to you, Theresa.
What I Wish I’d Known Before I Wrote a Novel by Theresa Hupp
I set out to write my first novel almost eleven years ago now, after a lengthy corporate career. Since then, I’ve written and published three novels (one under a pseudonym and two historical fiction under my own name), and I’m working on a fourth historical novel, which I’m in the process of revising and hope to publish in early 2018. On August 11, 2017, I presented a session at the Arrow Rock Writing Workshop in Arrow Rock, Missouri, that I called “What I Wish I’d Known BEFORE I Wrote a Novel.”
As an aside, Arrow Rock is a tiny town with a great historical past that should be of interest to writers of historical fiction. The village was founded in 1829 on a bluff above a Missouri River ferry crossing. Much of the town of Arrow Rock has been reconstructed to its 19th Century glory, and the entire village has been a National Historic Landmark since 1963.
In my August 11 Writing Workshop presentation, I covered such issues as creating a three-act story structure, character development, point of view, writing descriptions, revising your work, and other issues I’ve learned in my first ten years as a novelist. And I offered seven key lessons to the program participants that I’ll summarize in this post:
- Story Structure: As a novelist, be aware of story structure—the need for increasing tension through your book until the climax near the end of your story. Turning points should come at about the 25%, 50%, 75%, and 90% marks. Whether you outline everything or are a “pantser,” write your first draft to this structure as best you can. Then strengthen your structure as you revise your draft to give your readers the satisfying story they expect.
- Character Development: Get to know your primary characters well before you start. The better you know them, the better your first draft will be. Interview them about their life histories, use pictures that look like them, give them Myers Briggs types—whatever gets you into their heads. Make your protagonist heroic, but not perfect. Every character should have a flaw that makes him or her human.
- Play to Your Strengths: Learn the basics of the writing craft—such as plotting, character development, point of view, dialogue, and description. Know what your strengths as a writer are and play to them. (For example, if you like writing dialogue, write a lot of it.) But keep working on the areas where you need to improve.
- Revision: Being able to revise your work is far more important than writing a good first draft. You will probably spend more time revising than you do on the first draft. As John Irving said, “Half my life is an act of revision.” That is true for all writers.
- Writing Community: Become a part of a writing community. Find other writers who are both supportive of your work and who can help you improve as a writer. Good critique partners are a huge asset—cherish them, and do your best to help them succeed as writers also.
- Writing v. Marketing: Writing a good book is more important to start with than the decision whether to publish traditionally or as an indie author. The strength of your writing and your story are also more important than what you do to market the book once it is finished. Nevertheless, we all need to learn how to balance writing and promotion of our books. Your balance between these two will depend on your goals as a writer, so know what you want to accomplish with your writing—is it fame, fortune, fun, or something else?
- Keep Learning: You’re never done learning as a writer. Each book starts as a blank page and presents its own challenges. Writing is a more demanding occupation than I thought when I started, but it’s also more satisfying.
Here are a few sites I follow to help me continue to learn about the craft of writing and the business of publishing:
The writer’s life has been a wonderful fit for me, and I hope it is for you also. It is challenging, and I have learned so much in the last decade. I hope to keep learning for decades yet to come, and I hope these lessons are of help to other writers.
Many thanks, Theresa. Your lessons will benefit all new writers and I hope readers will also be interested in understanding the kind of effort that goes into the craft.
Theresa Hupp is the author of two historical novels, Lead Me Home: Hardship and Hope on the Oregon Trail, and Now I’m Found: Desolation and Discovery in the Gold Rush Years. Her forthcoming novel is tentatively titled Forever Mine: Love Along the Oregon Trail. Her books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Lead Me Home by Theresa Hupp – In 1847, Caleb “Mac” McDougall, a young Bostonian, seeks adventure on the Oregon Trail. As he passes through Missouri, he rescues Jenny Calhoun, a lonely girl in trouble. To join a wagon train bound for Oregon, Mac and Jenny pose as a married couple. On the arduous six-month trek, they confront raging rivers, rugged mountains, and untrustworthy companions. Together, Mac and Jenny face the best and worst in themselves and in each other, while discovering the beauty and danger of the western frontier. Fans of Lonesome Dove and True Grit will enjoy Lead Me Home-a gripping saga of courage, sacrifice, and enduring friendship.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.