Can you learn how to write novels, or does it require a special gift? The nub of this question is about skill versus ability - skills can be learned, abilities are innate. Arguably, writing is a skill. However, the quality of your work will depend on ability.
Here are my personal guidelines to help you make a start writing books. Many writers will tell you that going on creative writing courses will help. Maybe. I learned most of them the hard way.
Know The Competition
Read widely in your genre - you need to know the competition, particularly the best writers. This is a good place to begin learning how to write novels, because you see what sells (but remember that good marketing can sell poor quality work).
Plan The Story In Advance (Or Not)
Many successful writers start out with a plan for a book: start, middle and end, with the plan pinned up on a wall. Then they add character profiles and flesh them out. It is much easier to do this if you have a plot in mind. I just can't write books this way even if I have a good plot to start with. I like writing a book to be a journey of discovery for me as well as the reader. Find which method works for you.
How To Write Novels - Sit Down And Write
It will force you to think about 'point of view' ('POV'). Who is speaking in the story you are writing - that is, whose point of view is it? There are many technical perspectives here, but the rule is - decide your POV and stick to it.
A Plot Will Emerge
Don't worry if you don't have a plot. Imagine your main character (MC), and start describing him. Then, describe a typical day. Where is the MC - maybe at a beach you know well? Many authors set their stories in their home town.
The act of writing should engage your brain and your creative side.
The school of life is a wonderful teacher, so draw on your experiences whenever you can. People write best about what they know. Research thoroughly those areas you don't know well, making notes as you go along.
If you are still struggling to develop a plot, then go back to your main character, and spoil his day. Maybe an accident happens to him, or his home gets burgled. Write about that, about what led up to those events, who the players were. Was it a conspiracy? Did he have a secret life?
Show And Tell
Many writers tell the bulk of the story using dialogue between characters ('showing') in preference to a plain narrative, which can become tedious unless the author is adroit. A good story will have both, though there are authors who can break the 'rules' completely, and get away with it. If you are just starting out, though, and hope to get published, it's best to adhere to the rules.
Grammar And Punctuation
If you are weak in these areas, don't worry, an editor can correct them. Writing books is about much more than grammar if you have a good story to tell. If you really are below par in this respect then it would be best to engage a professional proof editor before sending your manuscript to a prospective publisher or agent.
The main 'rule' is - just do it. Write the first word, then the sentence and so on. Don't be too ambitious with your early goals. Write your next hundred words. As you write, ideas should spark - note them on a pad, for inclusion later. Join some author forums, and meet other authors - there are thousands of aspiring novelists learning how to write novels, and swapping ideas. It is a great way of learning the craft.
The author writes spy novels and thrillers, and non-fiction too. Get more guidance on how to write novels - specifically, plot development at his web site and discover other pointers to writing books and fact checking. There's always more to learn!
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