Sara Michelle Rising's picture
Sara Michelle Rising from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is reading Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison November 10, 2011 - 11:34am

I've been trying to write a novel for about three years now. Last night, I read through the three chapters I had written on my third attempt, and ended up scrapping it, yet again. I wasn't unhappy with my style of writing or my grammar, my problem is that the story is not flowing the way a novel should.

I am quite an anxious, obsessive-compulsive person and I have tried making outlines, keeping notes, building up slowly....nothing seems to get my thoughts organized to the point where I can put the story together correctly. I have an idea of the story, I know the characters, I know where I want it to go and I know certain things that need to be included..but when I try to put it all down on paper it ends up getting choppier and choppier as I go...

I guess my general question is: Does anyone know of any worthwhile resources and/or classes on writing novels that would be helpful? I'm overwhelmed by the thought of putting all of this together...and I have trouble just sitting down and writing and trusting that it will all work out....


I hope this post made sense, it's hard to portray what I'm having trouble with...but I have faith someone out there understands me. Any suggestions are welcome and appreciated!

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs November 10, 2011 - 1:00pm

Classes seem to be so focused on stories rather than novels, so I don't know. I guess you just need to keep your eyes open because sometimes there are classes that concern writing a novel rather than stories. Sometimes MFA programs have them. As far as classes in your area that are unaffiliated with a college, you need to look for them. There may be some continuing adult education classes concerning novel writing that are taught at a high school, but I'm usually skeptical of those because they always seem to be taught be self-published authors who have experience as English teachers. It's a tough deal as far as getting involved in a workshop because I don't believe getting critiques for excerpts (rather than the entire book) helps much. Perhaps you should shify your focus to writing stories before going back to a novel (unless you've already written a fair amount of stories) considering doing workshops and classes would be a lot more helpful for short story writing.

I just found an online class from a respectable company:

Looks like the teacher had one literary fiction novel published by a large press and went to one of the more prestigious (and most expensive) MFA programs.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts November 10, 2011 - 1:10pm

Firstly I think it goes without saying that your favorite books serve as a perfect template to learn what you need to write the stories you want. Try reading over some of those analytically and learn the structure better. Secondly, while there are no novel specific classes going on here at this particular moment, this site has been getting some really awesome people to teach classes aimed towards these types of situations. Keep an eye on those.

For what you describe, read through The Elements of Style three of four times and drive home the fundamentals of grammar, you may also be interested in a scriptwriting book to learn more about developing story structure (it's not novels, but basic story structure is pretty much the same for all good stories.) The Screenwriter's Bible is a good one.

Why don't you try short story writing for a while? It will give you a chance to practice story structure and theme and character development. You can flesh out ideas, scenes, and characters you think have potential to be in a novel. And you may come out with some stuff to publish, too.

 You could try an expanding outline. Start with bullet points of the acts, break those up into scenes, then scene descriptions, then action and dialogue, keep expanding a bullet pointed section until you have a complete scene that easily leads into the next bullet point. If you keep going and going, you will have a first draft. It works for some people, having your entire story right there in front of you.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs November 10, 2011 - 2:08pm

Books on fiction writing are either terrible as far as helping you learn plot structure or don't cover it at all. So as Renfield suggested, I would recommend a book on screenwriting for that (even though it's somewhat annoying to read if you're not interested in screenwriting considering they written specifically for a screenwriter rather than a novelist often use films as examples). Two books that I would recommend are Robert McKee's Story and Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey (which is a good book although it's extremely padded, repetitive, and  much longer than it should be, but its content is still extremely helpful). The Vogler book concerns the Hero's Journey plot structure, which is used in almost every Hollywood film and it works very well to use a variation of it in a novel. I haven't read The Screenwriter's Bible.

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. November 10, 2011 - 2:47pm

The classes offered on this website are pretty inclusive for novel writing. Otherwise our writers community on here is helpful and will do line by line reviews for you. Its inexpensive to join. Or if you prefer in person classes, honestly my best writing experiences were in local community college creative writing classes not some fancy program. The reason I say this is because you get such a diversity of people in there from all walks of life. One of the most important things I think is just to keep writing and not ocd about the grammar and spelling until the end. There are programs to help with that. Keep the core purpose of your idea and expand upon it. Set deadlines and word counts for yourself and stick to them. Btw, I also read Unbearable Lightness, its an interesting book. I'm not usually a huge memoir person but she fascinates me. Its a pretty disturbing account of anorexia.

Sara Michelle Rising's picture
Sara Michelle Rising from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is reading Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison November 10, 2011 - 3:01pm

I've been reading it all day and I think what I love about it is getting a first-hand account on don't get that blunt honesty very often from someone who is suffering/has suffered from the disesase.


Anyway, thanks everyone for all the great advice.

I definitely do have a problem with going overboard on OCD...I try to just keep writing, but everytime I go to write more, I read over everything I have so far, and end up editing/changing all of that before I continue writing. As you can imagine, this gets more and more tiresome as I get further into my book...I end up having to edit ten chapters before I can even continue the story...and by that time I'm so exhausted and down on myself from having to change so much, I can't continue...


I'm definitely going to check out some of these resources...thanks to everyone, and if anyone else has any advice, keep it coming!

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs November 10, 2011 - 3:25pm

I thought the classes for this website were primary focused on writing short stories. The ad for Craig Clevenger's class is no longer up, but I assumed that was the case with it. The current class that's being advertised is called "Art of the Short Story," so it's obviously not useful novel-wise.

You know, I really have no idea how to write a short story myself. I don't write them anymore, but I used to and I didn't focus on things like plot and character development. Now I only write prose poetry and longer things such as novellas or novels. The reason why I have no idea how to write a short story is because I feel they don't give me enough room for proper plot and character development and I don't know how to do this within the limited space of a short story. Also, I either want to write something that I can finish in one sitting or work on something for a long period of time rather than spend a couple of weeks on a short story. And that doesn't appeal to me because usually the moment I start to get "really into it," the story is nearly finished, and that is very frustrating.

Anyway, back to Sara: I suggest you start with writing an outline and finish it. Let your OCD "go overboard" while you're writing it and constantly revise. And when you're satisfied with the outline, start your first draft. And follow your outline (but don't be afraid to digress from it if something seems like it will work better while you're writing the draft). And most importantly, DON'T ALLOW YOURSELF TO EDIT THE FIRST DRAFT UNTIL YOU'RE FINISHED WITH IT since that appears to be the primary reason why you're unable to finish a draft of a novel.

Also, in addition to the outline, writing character profiles for the main characters prior to starting the first draft can be very helpful. So write about their traits, behavior (how they react under normal circumstances and how they react in a crisis), along with their life histories.

Sara Michelle Rising's picture
Sara Michelle Rising from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is reading Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison November 14, 2011 - 10:48am

I'm going to try this in-depth outline tactic and see where it goes from there...then try to push through the first draft without revising. Hopefully, with an in-depth, trusty outline by my side I'll be able to do that.

I really should do some short stories, etc. in the meantime, I will have to look into that...I've just never been very interested in short stories as I always seem to have so much more to say...I end up feeling like I've done some sort of injustice to the reader and the story itself.

Thanks for all the great advice though! We'll see if I can get this thing under control...

Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste, The Bone Weaver's Orchard by Sarah Read November 14, 2011 - 7:53pm

@Bradley and Sara -I can't speak to Craig's current classes, but the one I took dealt a little to novels in addition to short stories -specifically chapters -how short stories and chapters relate, differ. It may've been bonus content but it came up on a few occassions and also during the class phone conferences. Either way, his lessons are lessons that you can definitely apply to writing a novel. He focused a lot and more on Scene building with us, the different elements involved and how to build on that -I was able to create my first real short story from that class, but really, using the tools and knowledge from that class (or the one I took anyway) will definitley help you if you're pursuing a novel.