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Writing and Publishing

Scale Up to Writing a Novel

Scale up to writing a novel.

To write a novel, first, start with short stories. Many of the elements required for short stories carry over to longer works. In addition, it’s better to experiment on a 1,000-word short story than an 80,000-word novel. Once you’re comfortable with short stories then you can move on to longer works.

Short Story Tips

Writing short stories lets us experiment. We can have fast successes and failures. I’d rather try something on a short story than commit it to a whole novel only to find out it wasn’t working once I finished writing the entire thing.

As you hone your skills and find your voice with short stories, voraciously read novels. Read classics and contemporary works. Read in your genre and outside your genre. Read for enjoyment but mostly to learn. This will give you a sense of what works and what doesn’t, as well as to identify what you like and don’t like. This will pay off huge when you go to write your novel.

Start Your Novel

Now you’re ready to plan your novel. Whether you are a planner (plotter) or a discovery writer (a pantser—you write by the seat of your pants), you should have some ideas before you begin to write a novel.

I like to start with a list of characters, their bio, a story arc, the key elements, and a chapter outline. After all, if I’m writing that many words, I don’t want to waste effort.

For others, this prep work would stifle creativity, but it motivates me. Pick the method that works for you and start writing.

By the way, many novelists admit to writing several novels before one is good enough to publish, so don’t expect your first effort to write a novel will be a success. If it is, that’s great, but be prepared to crank out a couple before you find much interest.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Identifying Speakers in Dialogue

How to Identify Speakers in Dialogue

How to identify speakers in dialogue

Here are some options to identify speakers in dialogue.

1. Tag your dialogue with any descriptive word other than said, such as exclaimed, interjected, sputtered, yelled, and so forth. I learned this in Middle School and followed it for many years. Now the recommendation is to avoid doing this, as it singles lazy writing. I prefer to show the speaker’s emotion instead of stating it. For example:

Bruce narrowed his gaze and pursed his lips. “I can’t believe you did that,” he said.

I far prefer that to “I can’t believe you did that,” Bruce snarled.

I only use a descriptive tag if I feel it will make the passage stronger.

2. Only use said. While we need to identify the speaker, most readers skip the connecting word—or so I hear. Some people feel that using anything other than said is an annoying speed bump. Some people even recommend doing this for questions, as in: Then Gene said, “How long will you be gone?”

I generally use said when I need a dialogue tag, but I still use asked for questions.

3. My preference, however, is to use context to identify the speaker. In this way I minimize the use of dialogue tags and let the surrounding text show who the reader is, as in this exchange:

Ben stared at the book in his trembling hands. “You mean I get to keep this?”

Sue’s eyes danced. “Yes, it’s a gift.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“How about thank you?”

“I so appreciate this.” Ben blinked three times, fighting to hold back tears. “Thank you. This is wonderful.”

In this passage, there are no dialogue tags at all, but the context shows us Ben is the first speaker and Sue, the second. Since this is a rapid exchange, readers understand that Ben then replies to Sue, and she responds in the fourth line. Then to make sure readers don’t get confused, the fifth line confirms Ben is talking.

This takes more work to write, but it seems this is the current trend and strikes me as powerful writing.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?

Though using a pattern to inform our books’ structure has merit, it may lead us to a troublesome end

Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?

There are multiple guides we can follow to properly structure the books we write. Perhaps the most common is the three-act structure, but there are many others as well.

There’s enough to make me dizzy, so I won’t start to list them. Besides, this post isn’t to promote these various models as much as to share my concern about them.

For example, I know that when watching a movie, I should expect a plot twist about three-fourths of the way into the show. The incident may be trivial, could have been telegraphed too much earlier in the movie, or come as an unexpected shock, but one thing is certain: I know that something is about to happen, so I brace for it.

Because I expect this plot twist to pop up, it seldom delights me. I know that this annoyance is just one more hurdle for the protagonist to jump over before I can enjoy the ending—and I better enjoy the ending.

This happens in books too, but because I’ve watched more movies than reading books, I’m more tuned in to it with movies.

While I think it’s important we know about these writing devices and be able to apply them when needed, I worry about slavishly following them.

Why is that?

Computers.

Computers and artificial intelligence.

Even now computers can write. And it won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Just enter a couple of characters, a story arc, a conflict, and a few other key parameters. Press enter, and a finished story emerges, following an established writing model.

This technology will one day make most writers obsolete. And I think it will happen much sooner than most people expect.

What computers and AI software will have trouble emulating, however, is the truly creative writers who don’t follow the writing models that the computer programs follow. These writers—and I plan to be one of them—will still be in demand, because computers will struggle to produce a truly creative book that transcends its writing-model programming.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.


Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Before You Write a Novel, Start With Something Shorter

Write short stories to master the art of fiction writing

May is short story month

May is short story month. I share this news in advance so you can consider how you want to celebrate. You might want to spend the month reading short stories or perhaps focus on writing a few. But regardless, give short stories some consideration in the month of May. Doing so will inform your other writing, whether you write fiction or not.

I know many beginning writers who sit down to write a novel. They have a vision and enthusiasm, but not much else. They start writing but soon give up in frustration. And for the few who do finish, their story isn’t that good.

I’ve often heard that novelists write several bad novels before penning a good one. Those first books serve as training for them to learn what works and doesn’t, to find their voice, and to hone their craft. They need to figure out plot and structure and story arc and character development and dialogue and a slew of other things. And they write several practice books to get there.

Why not write several practice short stories instead?

I took that path. In fact, I focused on flash fiction: short stories with fewer than one thousand words. I experimented with a first-person and third person, present tense and past tense. I even wrote a second-person, present-tense short story—something I’d hate doing for an entire book.

Using short stories, I fine-tuned my dialogue. I worked on intriguing titles, strong openings, and satisfying closes. I practiced “show, don’t tell” and worked on word choice.

I did all this in preparation to one day write a novel. You see, I didn’t want to waste several novels practicing. I used my short stories for that. I got feedback from critique groups, hired tutors, and studied.

Then one day I wrote a piece of flash fiction. It started out as 900 words. But I liked the premise and added to it to produce a 2,500-word short story. I fell in love with the characters and wanted to write more. I did write more, a lot more. By the time I finished my story arc I had a 28,000-word novella. But it needed more. Next, I added two secondary story arcs and the length grew to 46,000 words, enough for a short novel and about perfect for the YA (young adult) genre.

So my 800-word piece of flash fiction grew into a 46,000-word novel.

But the story isn’t over.

Last year, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a 49,000-word sequel. Then I mapped out a series. I’m ready to start writing books three and four.

Writing short stories prepared me to write novels. And writing fiction helps me write better nonfiction and memoir.

To celebrate the short story. May is short story month. It even has its own Twitter account: @ShortStoryMonth, which often uses the hashtag #shortreads.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.


Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Writing a Novel is Like Running a Marathon

Before writing a book we need to train

Writing a Novel is Like Running a Marathon

I dislike the phrase aspiring writer. Either we aspire to write or we actually do it. Being an aspiring writer is no more than hoping for a future outcome, one that will never happen because the aspiring writer spends all his or her time dreaming and no time writing.

Yet some people are truly aspiring writers. Then one day these aspiring writers say “enough is enough” and they sit down to crank out a novel.

This is like waking up one morning and deciding to run a marathon—that afternoon. While hardheaded determination may eventually propel the novice runner to the finish line, it’s not going to be pretty. More likely this out-of-shape entrant will realize the folly of running such a great distance without the needed training and drop out after a couple of miles.

This beginning runner vows to never run again. Or better is a decision to train before attempting another marathon.

So it is with an aspiring author. A few chapters, pages, or even sentences into the novel and the words crumble into frustration. The vision vanishes. The muse refuses to cooperate. Or the needed skills simply aren’t present.

The aspiring writer gives up and vows to never write again. Or maybe, just maybe, this novice stops aspiring and starts training. Of course some aspiring authors never do anything except train. That’s no good either.

Just as a good prelude to running a marathon could start with jogging, wise preparation for writing a novel starts with the short story.

As a nonfiction writer, I cranked out hundreds of articles before I attempted my first book. Though I completed it, the results were sad. Then I wrote a second and a third. At some point they became worthy of publication. (Thankfully the first one will never go past a couple of beta readers and a developmental editor.)

When I considered writing fiction, instead of diving into a novel length work, I begin with flash fiction: short stories under 1,000 words. This allowed me to experiment with different ideas and various techniques. If something didn’t work, I wasn’t out much. After I had several dozen finished, I stumbled onto one that captivated me. I couldn’t let go of the characters. I expanded it from flash fiction into a longer short story. Then it grew into a novella, and with later the addition of some secondary character arcs, it became a novel. Now I’m editing the sequel, with a series arc for twenty books.

And it all started by writing a short story.

By the way, May is short story month. Think about it.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.


Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.