Holly Smale – seven top tips for writing a novel

This article was last updated on 20 May 2020.

Holly Smale is the best-selling author of Geek Girl and The Valentines... so she knows a thing or two about how to write a good book! She took some time to tell us her top tips for how you can brush up on your novel writing skills whilst in lockdown... or anytime really, check it out!

Before you start, you need to know that there is no pressure on you during lockdown to begin to write the next Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings, so don't worry; chill out, read this article, watch a boxset and maybe come back to writing that best-seller another day... but if you do want to use this time in lockdown to improve your writing... then great! Holly's got some excellent tips for you to get started!

Here is a summary of what Holly says:

Holly's 7 top tips to write a novel

1. Telling a unique story

Every story is unique, because you are unique. No other person on the planet is going to combine the same thoughts and the same passions in the same way as you, so the best thing you can do is lean in to who you are. Enjoy being a complete original, because the less you worry about other people, the better your writing is going to be.

2. Making decisions

Writing a story is like living a life: it’s just a series of decisions that you make. Some of them are massive and change the entire plot, and some of them are small and just alter a tiny detail. Some of them seem small but actually turn out to have HUGE impact. So you can treat a book in the same way. Break it down into a series of decisions that you control.

3. Choosing what you love

If you want to stick at a story for days, months, even years, you have to be selfish. What this means is – choose things that make you happy. It doesn’t matter what they are. If you like comedy, write books that contain jokes. If horror is more your thing, stick a vampire in your book! It’s your novel, and the most powerful thing you can do is be as selfish as possible – include the things you love most, and you will find that it becomes a project of love – one that you enjoy and can keep going with.

4. Switch it up

If you get to a point in your story where you find that you get stuck, and you realise that it's because you are bored of your own story... change it! Do something that is really fun and exciting and takes the story in a different direction. That's often the best way to push yourself out of a writer's block.

5. Use your own life to inspire

You don’t have to write an autobiography, but every writer takes inspiration from their own life and changes it, fictionalises it, uses it as a spring board to take them somewhere else. So look at your own life and think about things that may have happened. It can be massive – a whole plot idea – or it can be tiny; the way someone walks or does their hair. Don’t be frightened to change it or combine it – that’s what fiction is – but your own life is always a great starting point for fiction.

No matter what it is you’re writing, no matter how crazy it seems or how unreal, one thing remains true for all writing: you will need to harness your own real emotions to write it. Tap into memories of when you felt that emotion, and use it to write your characters. It’s the best way to make your book feel true, even though it isn’t.

6. Asking 'what if?'

Once you’ve searched your own life, it’s a great idea to ask ‘what if….?’ so take something that happened, and then push it a bit further – what would have happened if… it can be tiny or huge, just let your imagination take a step away from reality and then, let it take another step... and another step. Your story can go wherever you want it to, there are no limits!

7. Building a map

Once you’ve got all these ideas and decisions made, write them all down on a big piece of paper – or a wall – and stare at them for a while. They’re going to start doing a magical thing – they’ll start expanding, making new ideas, linking together. Maybe one scene leads to another scene, maybe one character matches with another. Just let your imagination have as much fun as possible!

By using Holly's tips and a few good ideas of your own, before you know it, you’ll end up with a story as unique, fun and real as you are.

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