Step #4 To Writing A Novel (Writing Tip #85)

The fourth step I take when writing a novel is probably one of the biggest areas where I differ from other novelists.

At the start of the actual writing process, I always try to do something different. I break the story down then try and figure out the best way to tell it. My goal is to do something unique with each particular story, something I haven’t done before.
For many novelists, especially when something has worked before, they stick to what they know best. I’m not just referring to genre but rather style and format. For some novelists, the biggest change in their writing style might be switching point-of-view from third person to first person.
I’ll share some examples from my work to illustrate what I’m getting at.
This started when I began writing The Watermark, my second novel published. I could have replicated what I did in my first novel, The Promise Remains. Tell the story about a guy and a girl who fall in love. But I didn’t really want to tell that story again. I wanted to tell a story about a man who regains hope. So I wrapped it up in the guise of a love story, but I kept the beating heart of the story a secret from the reader. Since it was written in first person, I was able to do that.
Most love stories end with the couple getting together (or tragically not getting together). But The Watermark ended with our hero having regained hope thanks in part to this wonderful woman he’d met. He was heading toward her, but we never saw the two reuniting. Because that wasn’t what I set out to write in that novel.
For The Second Thief, I built an entire story around a Twilight Zone-esque ending. For Three Roads Home, I built an entire book around three similar-themed stories.
When it came time to work on Gun Lake, I really got ambitious. A bit too ambitious, I learned in hindsight. I decided to have eight character viewpoints. EIGHT! (I just had to pull the book to count how many.) That was a bit too much to try and pull off, but I went for it.
For the next book, Admission, I broke up the narrative by an eleven-year gap. So you basically had two stories going back and forth, tied up at the end.
Blinded . . . well, the big thing I did different was in fact the point of view. But I get some points because it’s second person POV, something very few novelists attempt.
Each time I start a new work, I deliberately think of a new and different way of telling the story. I’m not just trying to experiment. I’m attempting to challenge myself in a creative way. I don’t want to simply press the REPEAT button and tell another story in the same old way.
Many of you who are reading this might have never finished a novel. So my encouragement is to worry more about finishing and worry less about how you do it. But I believe it’s good to think through a unique way of telling a story. Sometimes that can also be the entire hook of the story. Yes, but the narrator of this story is the family’s pet hampster!! You might be on to something brilliant. Or you might biting off more than you can chew, like I did in Gun Lake.
Are you dying to write your story? Do you have your map in hand and your characters sketched out? Then think and play around with how to tell that story. Tinker around with the story map. Be creative with the characters.
Try things out. Many times I’ll attempt something, then chuck it and start over again. That’s one of the many ways you learn.


  1. This is one of the reasons I respect you so much as a writer. I love that you challenge yourself and that you don't fit into a label I can throw out there to lure people in. When people ask me about your books, I tell them they have to read them to get a sense of what/how you write, and that they'll find something fresh every time. I usually send them to Amazon to read reviews and then tell them to pick something that sounds interesting and branch out after that. lol!!! My mom just finished her first Thrasher novel ("The Promise Remains") and I'm sending her more suggestions. She's a fan!

  2. Thanks Meggs! It's difficult creating that word I hate hearing–a "brand"–doing things this way. But glad there are readers like yourself. Cool to hear about your mother reading my work.

  3. My husband and I read Gun Lake and liked it. We thought you did a fine job….not too many characters for us. Plus, the tiny towns in the beginning of the book are my hometowns in Louisiana. Imagine how surprised I was to read about them.

    I'm really loving the Solitary Tales and anxiously awaiting the next two books. It's a rare treat to find a really, really good story. Thanks for writing one.

    Keep writing and we'll keep reading.

Submit a comment