Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Write a novel this summer, why don’t ya

I thought I’d jot a few things down about writing novels. Think of this as a how-to, and if you follow my advice there’s a good chance you’ll have a finished novel in hand by Labor Day. That’s more than twice the allotted time in NaNoWriMo, so it ought to be a piece of cake for you.

There’s no need to think up an idea, for one thing. Since there’s nothing new under the sun, all you need to do is find an idea out there that you like and redo it. So many famous authors have done this it’s not even funny. Why? Because they understood early on that if you try to come up with something new you waste way too much time “working it all out.” Just hitchhike on someone else’s wagon, and you’ll save yourself loads of frustration. Why do you think James Joyce wrote Ulysses? Because he was short on time.

To cover your tracks, choose an idea from a genre other than your own. For instance, if you write thrillers, you might grab something from the world of rom-com. When Harry Met Sally … and Strangled Her! It could work. Or repurpose Shakespeare in a sci-fi novel. I can see The Tempest set on a distant planet instead of an island. Why hasn’t someone thought of that already?

Once you’ve chosen your idea, don’t waste a lot of effort thinking it all through. Start writing immediately. It’s your momentum that’s going to carry you through to the end. If need be, take the original material you’re “borrowing” and copy entire sections from it, just to get things rolling. You can go back later and alter these, especially where things like character names are concerned. Readers will become confused if they’ve been reading about Jonathan and Viola and suddenly the names Rhett and Scarlett turn up out of nowhere. This will make no sense, especially if Scarlett whips out a laser gun to shoot at them nasty Yankees.

It’s usually the middle of a book that gives fiction writers the most trouble. One thing I like to do is cut and paste entire sections of “lorem ipsum” text into the middle of the book so I can jump straight ahead to the end. If, when I’m finished, I find that the “lorem ipsum” text makes as much sense as anything I might have written myself, I’ll just go ahead and take it out. Sometimes this results in a remarkably short novel, but these days people don’t have enough time to read anyway and they appreciate my cutting to the chase. I hear that a lot of readers skip the middle of books as it is, so this is just anticipating their needs and delivering.

As far as characters go, you’ll need at least one woman, one man, maybe a friend for the woman, and then a couple of wingmen for the man, one fat and one thin. These can fill in any kind of profession or situation. Medical, military, Starfleet, Viking seafarers. Whatever. I don’t know if there were any female Viking seafarers, but that would make a pretty interesting book. Just remember that readers have to identify with the protagonist, so whether that’s the woman or the main man, make sure he/she’s not a dick. Though the idea of a female Viking seafarer who’s a dick would make a pretty interesting book.

Dialogue. What writers always forget in writing dialogue is that in real life people speak as if they’ve had severe head injuries. They start and stop a lot. They never complete a thought. They say “like” and “whatever” and “so” just to buy themselves some time to think up the next thing to say. Your dialogue should attempt to replicate this as much as possible so the reader feels like she’s really there.

Here’s an example:

Are you, like, gonna go to that – you know. That – ”

Like, thing?”

Right. So. Are you?”

Mebbe. Dunno.”

‘Kay. See you there?”


See? It’s not that hard. And to think that this takes place on a distant planet sweetens the pot even more.

The ending. It’s always said that endings should be inevitable yet surprising. It’s entirely possible but maybe not inevitable that a space pirate might be killed in the end by a female Viking seafarer – if the book involves time travel – but readers might question the surprisingness of this. Still, it would wrap things up nicely, so.

I’d advise you to stick with whatever ending hits you first, since it’s likely the most organic result of everything you’ve laid out so carefully. It’s when you start trying to satisfy hypothetical focus groups that you run into trouble. Thus did Dickens mess up, in my opinion, when he let Scrooge off the hook instead of having him hunted down and quartered by all the Londoners he had screwed over.

Like I said, inevitable yet surprising.

There you have it. A basic roadmap to getting your book done before the harvest. And don’t forget: there’s an audience out there, hungry for any porridge that comes out of your brilliant head!

9 comments on “Write a novel this summer, why don’t ya

  1. pinklightsabre
    July 7, 2017

    “Thus did Dickens mess up.” Like the diction in that.

  2. Phillip McCollum
    July 7, 2017

    “I can see The Tempest set on a distant planet instead of an island. Why hasn’t someone thought of that already?” Damn, taken and done very well too… Caliban is a scary mofo in this book. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3973.Ilium

    I look forward to your book about a dick of a Viking woman. Don’t mess with Ingrid.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 7, 2017

      He folds Caliban into The Iliad? Now that sounds pretty inspired!

      As for Ingrid, Don’t make her Thor … 😉

  3. John W. Howell
    July 7, 2017

    LOL. Enjoyed this.

  4. Ilona Elliott
    July 7, 2017

    I agree that Dickens screwed up. As did Billy Wilder with Mr. Potter. I say go for the obvious ending otherwise you piss a lot of people off.
    Funny stuff Kevin! I think Trump and his peeps have taken the “borrowing copy” school of writing to a whole new level.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 8, 2017

      I also think ET would probably have died from some human disease before he could phone home …

      I think you’re right about the Trump peeps. I just hope they’re not borrowing from “Mein Kampf”! 😐

Chime in

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on July 7, 2017 by in Writing and tagged , , .
%d bloggers like this: