1. How many pages should chapters be?
There is no set number or recommended number of pages that should be in each chapter of your novel. In fact, you don’t even have to have chapters in your book—it’s completely up to you. The reason for chapters is to break up the narrative and to give readers a rest/break. Readers like breaks. They like knowing they’re making progress—even if they don’t know it. That said, writers oftentimes use chapter length to set pacing. Take a peek at James Patterson’s books. They’ll have just a few pages in them. It speeds the pacing of the work up, whereas novels by J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has a chapter that’s 16,300 words long. It all depends on what works for your novel.
2. How many chapters should my novel have?
Same thing here. It’s completely up to you and your novel. It’s the writing that matters—not how many chapters are in it.
3. How do I write conversations in a novel?
I’m assuming the writer who asked this question is referring to dialogue, but I’ll answer the other option as well, where the question may be addressing conversations from a more philosophical perspective.
First, let’s talk about dialogue. Dialogue is two or more characters speaking to each other, most likely in scene. The words that they speak to each other should do a couple of things, namely reveal character and move the plot forward. Every interaction where characters speak to each other should be important—if it isn’t, cut it from the manuscript. Dialogue should also be interesting; mundane dialogue where characters are participating in small talk gets old fast. I’m not saying you can’t do it—you can. But there should be some clear purpose to why you’re doing it. Maybe they’re avoiding dealing with something directly. But that’s serving a purpose too. So that small talk is actually revealing character.
In terms of how you write them, well, that’s up to you. Without going into stylistic anomalies like Cormac McCarthy novels where quotation marks around dialogue are not used, as long as the reader knows who is speaking to whom, that’s about it. You set up the scene, you have a character present who speaks, and another who either speaks back or acts in some way in return to show that they’re part of the scene. There are dialogue tags like “he said,” or “she said,” but there doesn’t have to be. We, the reader, just have to “hear” them speak to each other.
Now, if the question refers to conversations in a more philosophical context, we’re talking about something that’s obviously more difficult to pull off. Few writers are able to do it “right,” or provide conversations like that with any justice. Writers who try to drop in philosophical treatises or dissertations within novels are uncommon, because these types of “conversations” are intrusive. It’s like watching a television show or movie and all of a sudden a character shows up and starts preaching to the reader about how the universe works. It may be related to the rest of the book, but if it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the novel’s plot, it’s a distraction. So be very careful in trying to “educate” your reader on something without providing the right context before and after you include a rant on politics or philosophy or whatever.
4. How do you write longform fiction without getting bored?
This is an issue that I know a lot of writers face while writing. I don’t know if “bored” is the correct or most accurate term, but I think they’re referring to what all writers experience, namely the period of time during the writing process where you’re not confident the narrative is going to “work.” This is normal. Perhaps it’s their “writer’s block,” which, just as an aside, I don’t believe in (though I know what a writer means by it).
My suggestion is that you keep writing. If you get bored, write something else. Write a scene. Write dialogue. Write setting. Do some research about something in your fiction, if it’s something that’ll help your work. The concept is that you’ll still be working on your piece, but you won’t be “bored” because you’re switching up what you’re focusing on that’s making you bored. There’s also the possibility that the piece isn’t going to pan out as a longform work. There are some novella/novel/longform ideas that simply don’t have what it takes to make it. And that’s okay. Sometimes you have to put a manuscript in a drawer and return to it later. Sometimes you have to just write off the piece as something you had to write, but that’ll never see the light of day once you write it. It’s just the way it turns out sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just keep writing.
5. How do you write a fiction novel?
I see the term “fiction novel” a lot. It’s a sign that the writer isn’t experienced, that they're a beginning writer. That’s okay—I’m not trying to be critical or denigrate the writer. But the term is redundant. While there may be autobiographical or biographical information in the novel, or it may be historical fiction and thus include real events, a novel, by definition, IS fiction. You don’t need to state it. According to Wikipedia, “A novel is a relatively long work of narrative fiction, typically written in prose and published as a book.” There is, however, something called a non-fiction novel. Wikipedia says “The non-fiction novel is a literary genre that, broadly speaking, depicts non-fictional elements, such as real historical figures and actual events, woven together with fictitious conversations and uses the storytelling techniques of fiction.” But that’s not the question, so I won’t dive deeper into what a “non-fiction novel” is, in this response.
6. Should I copyright my novel?
I see this question constantly on reddit. While I’m not providing legal advice here, the short answer is no. You don’t—not “officially,” anyway. The moment you write something, it’s yours. It’s considered “copyrighted.” You don’t have to place a copyright notice on your work. Yes, you can go register your copyright once you’re manuscript is done, but you’ll have to pay for that by copyrighting through the U.S. Copyright Office. I don’t do it, but if you’re worried about it, that’s an option.
7. What has made you become a better writer?
Want to become a better writer? It’s simple: write. Like anything else on this earth, the more you practice, the better you become at something. There’s talent involved as well, and there’s a number of other things that you can do, like reading like a writer, taking creative writing courses, getting your MFA in creative writing, and so on, but writing is how you learn to write. Revising and rewriting is how you improve your writing. It’s part of the process, if you want to be a serious writer. That, and asking for and receiving constructive criticism is how, after many years, I’ve “improved” my writing. I have an MFA in fiction, and MA in Literature in English, a BA in English Literature and an MBA, but none of those things, once done, instantly made me a better writer. It’s the writing afterwards and done on a consistent basis is what has made be a better writer. It’s the practice. It’s the working on my craft daily. It’s the desire to improve.
8. Is it better to have a prologue chapter or just start from Chapter one?
Most published writers I know, me included, don’t lean towards including prologues in our works. Our view is that if it needs to be in the novel, then it should be clear in the first chapter what you’re trying to express. I know of some prologues that work, but they stick out. They can be a distraction. In a subtle way, they’re saying “I didn’t know how to get this across in the narrative, so I’m going to tell the reader something so that it’s clear what I’m trying to get across.” At any rate, whether or not to include a prologue or not is up to the individual writer. If you have an agent, editor, or publisher, they’ll let you know their thoughts on whether or not to include a prologue. But again, if something works, it works.
9. My novel is over 200,000 words, is that too long?
The answer is probably a resounding YES. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t novels that are that long or that shouldn’t be that long. Things like genre affect what word count is acceptable in a novel. But if you’re a first-time novelist and you’re seeking representation, your prospective agent is going to balk. They’re going to tell you to cut it in half, or make it two books. One of the reasons for that is financial. Publishers have relatively set prices they can charge for books if they want readers to spend their hard-earned money; anything that cuts into profit is frowned upon. Books over 300 pages or 100,000 words are frowned upon—mostly for books that are printed. E-books are different, as are self-published books, because they have different rules. But ask yourself this: when was the last time you read a 600-page book? If you’re writing science fiction and fantasy, your word count will probably be at the higher range of the word count, but still not that long. Yes, there are exceptions like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, Tolstoy’s War and Peace and others, but they are exceptions. And most of us aren’t the authors who’ve written those books. We may be, but it’s not likely.
10. Are there any advantages to trying traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?
That depends on what your particular goals are. If you have your heart on traditional publishing (including indie publishing), you will likely need an agent, who acts as a gatekeeper to the traditional publishers like Penguin/Random House, Harper Collins, Simon and Schuster, and so on. Indie publishing is a little looser in terms of those requirements. Self-publishing and vanity publishing require none of that. All they require is your time and some of your money and you can print your book. The issue then comes down to how you sell and market your work. Traditional publishers provide support. Not that they’re going to throw money your way in terms of book tours and full-page ads in P&W (though it’s possible). Generally, there’s a respect factor involved when you publish through a traditional publisher rather than self-publishing. Your work has been vetted by an independent source—the agent and editors at the houses, which gives your work validity. Self-published books don’t start out with that validity—it has to be earned. Which takes not only a well-written book, but awareness through publicity, word of mouth, and so on. You get to keep more of the profits, but you also have to do all of the work. More and more books are being self-published these days, which is fine. But the chances of your book vanishing into obscurity once you click “publish” is likely higher than if your book was published through a respected house.
11. Can you use games to create a fiction series?
You can use whatever you want to create a series. That’s the freedom you have as a writer. It’s called the first amendment. It’s called freedom of speech. If you want to write a series based on an ant that takes over planet Yucavoncuckoobird, you can. Now, you may need to be respectful/cognizant of the rules about copyrighted material and intellectual property associated with the game (or movie, book, record, whatever), but there’s genres like fan fiction that navigate those areas quite well. You may need to gain permission to use certain elements incorporated into your work. So just make sure you’re staying within the legal boundaries applicable to your scenario. *Again, I’m not providing legal advice, just mentioning things to consider and look into prior to getting your work published.
12. Should I invest in writing courses?
That’s a question you need to ask yourself. Do you think you should invest in writing courses? Are you confident in your writing? Are you “self-aware?” Do you have a grasp of grammar? Do you know how to tell a story? Do you need the support of fellow writers? If you do, writing courses or MFA programs may help you. This is an individual choice. Some writers believe that writing programs create writers who write in the style that they’re taught. I don’t know where I stand on that view—but I’d been writing a long time prior to getting my MFA. If you think you might learn something from a writing course, I say give it a go. You can stop if you think it isn’t adding value to your writing. Again, it’s your choice.
13. I want to publish a novel. Does anyone know of a good easy formula I can use?
This question goes back to what you’re trying to accomplish. ANYONE can “publish” a novel these days by self-publishing. You can write your novel, send it out to a vanity press, or go through a service like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and voilá, you’re “published.” If you’re looking to get published by a traditional publisher, it’s a bit more complex and obviously more difficult. That said, if you’re looking for a formula to “write a bestseller” or something along those lines, then let me drop a piece of reality here: THERE IS no formula. There are people and companies out there that will sell you on that promise, but I wouldn’t give them a dime. Good writing, luck, connections, and a number of other factors play various parts in getting a novel published traditionally. I’m not saying all of those are required, only that writers shouldn’t believe that a formula is going to get your novel published. It’s the writing that’s important. Writing isn’t putting an Ikea futon together. It isn’t dish soap. It’s a craft. And that craft has to be learned by working on it—not by following a formula.
14. How do you write in a timely manner?
Depends on what you mean by “a timely manner.” I have novels I’ve written first drafts in in three weeks. I have a novel I’ve been working on for over twenty years and over 100 drafts. I wrote a novel in six months, and with little editing it was published by an indie press. “Timely” is relevant. Michael Connelly writes and published a book a year. That’s his MO. Some writers take longer to put out a book, others less time. My recommendation is that you write daily, for however long you can. If you write 1 page a day for a year you’ll have a manuscript that’s 365 pages, unless it’s leap year. Then you’ll have 366. It’s up to you what the definition of timely is.
15. How do you know how much violence to show or not?
Again, this is a personal question to the author. It likely also depends on the genre you’ve chosen to write your book in. There’s no set rule about how much violence to show or not show, if the violence is gratuitous or important to the plot and story, and what readers of the genre in which you’re writing expect and will tolerate. My guess is that you’ll know how much is appropriate once you get some feedback from your beta readers, if you have any. If you don’t, maybe get some. Their feedback will let you know what’s working for them and what isn’t working for them. Some people like explicit violence. Others abhor it. Ultimately, it’s you, the author, that has to make that call. You must ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish by including the violence, how much to include, and if it’s providing the readers with the desired effect you’re looking to achieve. Remember, you, the author, is GOD when it comes to what’s included in your work. Don’t chase readers; write the book you want to read. Or not. It’s your choice.
If you’ve completed a novel and are looking for someone to help you edit it from a substantive perspective, feel free to send us an email at Support@novelmasterclass.com, even if it’s just to ask a question. Thanks!
Cully Perlman holds an MFA in Fiction, an MA in Literature in English, a BA in English Literature, and an MBA in Market Strategy & International Business. He is the author of a novel, THE LOSSES, as well as many short stories and nonfiction published in journals both online and in print. He is founder of NovelMasterClass.com