Lessons learned

Now that I’ve finished my fourth novel, I’ve learned a few tricks to make my life easier. As a mum with an overactive toddler and another baby on the way, I’m extremely time poor. I don’t have time to waste, barely a moment to spare, so anything I can do to save time while writing is useful.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the course of writing four novels.

Keep a character name list from the beginning

It took me till my third novel to start making my character name database. I wish I had just done it from the start of writing my first novel, as I had to go back through everything I had written and pick out all the characters, which took ages.

I now have a spreadsheet which lists the novel, the character first name and surname, notes on their appearance, occupation, nationality and who they are to the story. It saves a lot of time and makes sure I don’t keep using the same names over and over again.

Check the names early on

Speaking of names, I’ve learned the importance of checking them before getting too attached. My main character in Falling Again is a rugby player I initially named Jamie Walsh, till I googled and found out that he was an actual rugby star from the 70s! So I changed the character’s name to Jamie Welsh as I didn’t want there to be any confusion.

There’s nothing more frustrating than to have a beautifully formatted, edited manuscript, only to have to go through and change names afterwards.

Keep a scene list

Although I like to plot out my novels before writing, I find that my planned scenes always change. Without fail. Perhaps I’ll decide I need something more dramatic to happen, or I’ll feel that I want to flesh out a character’s backstory a bit more. So I now keep an up-to-date scene list as I write, detailing the location, timeline, characters involved, and what happens.

This helps when identifying any narrative gaps, looking for any repetitions or opportunities to add something new, and oh yes, writing the dreaded synopsis later.

First drafts are crap, and that’s okay

I’ve learned to take it easy on myself for first drafts. For me, the vital thing is to get the overall story arc in place. I need to see if the idea has substance. I don’t want to spend a day crafting a perfect paragraph only to find later that the story hasn’t really got anywhere to go. I prefer to quickly bash out a first draft that’s hugely underwritten, lacking in description and detail, but contains the bones of the story. If I can do that, then the second draft is about fleshing it out and adding the detail.

My first draft of No Love Lost was short at around 55k words. The second draft was 68K, and the final draft was 73K, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. If I’m committed to the characters and telling their story, I can turn a short, scrappy first draft into a full novel.

I’ve just finished the final novel in my Love in the Spotlight series and have a few other exciting things to be working on now. I’m putting into practice all these hard-learned lessons, and picking up more tips and tricks along the way, which I’ll be sure to share!

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