5 Things to Do While Writing Your Novel

There's a difference between an author and a bestselling author: book sales. Below are 5 things I learned to focus on while writing my first book. They also happen to be what every bestselling author includes in their prose.

1. Organization.
Without it, your novel will be a headache for you to write, not to mention confusing to readers. You may know what you're trying to say, but they won't. Map out your story and scenes during the prewriting process, and stick to it. Just as every story needs a beginning, middle, and end—they also need flow. If it doesn't flow smoothly, it's not working, and this means more work for you. Remember those outlines you learned in freshmen English? Well, here's your real-world application. :)

2. Purpose.
What's the point of this sentence? Paragraph? Chapter?
Every line, paragraph, and chapter must be used to communicate a plot point, a character goal, action to increase tension, or action to advance the plot. If it doesn't, it's not needed and you shouldn't include it in your novel.

3. Mystery.
Adding mystery to your novel means motivation for your audience to keep reading. This is something you want to include from the very first line of your book. Why is she on the run? How will he warn his friends? How did she become an orphan? If your book is part of a series, try and write a cliffhanger ending. Your readers will be dying to get a hold of your book's sequel to find out what happens (again– to discover the answers to their questions), and that'll mean more sales for you.

4. Plot Twist.
You should surprise your reader at least three times during your novel. This will keep your reader from becoming bored. If there are no plot twists, your novel may seem dull, and a waste of time to your reader. Make your audience think they know where you're going with your plot and then rip the rug out from under them (but please do so with caution! Always make sure the twist will enhance your story, not steer it in some random direction).

5. Language.
Think efficiency. Make your reader feel like they're in each scene, but don't overdo it. You don't need five paragraphs about what a scene looks like, because your reader wants a story that moves along anyway. If you can replace five words with one, please do so.

Well, there you have it folks- five things I learned while writing a novel. Keep them in mind as you write your Bestseller.

Want to know 12 Pet Peeves Readers Have That Will Get Your Book Shelved? Click here to find out.

Happy writing!



Savage Race 2015: Identifying With My Protagonist

Barbed wire. Ice cold water. Forty-Three foot ramps.

When I signed up for the Savage Race, I had watched the promo video, read articles about it, and had developed an idea of what to expect. But envisioning and experiencing are two different things, my friends. As I stated in my post Savage Race: First Sneak Peak Into My Book Series Acts of Valerie, I was completely unprepared for an activity like this, and that was the point. I wanted to put myself into a similar situation as Valerie, in order to identify with her experience on the obstacle course during training. Well, my goal was met, and even moreso than I was expecting.

During the race I gained insight into a do-or-die mentality. I also came to understand the physical strain and requirements of such an experience. But through it all, I kept in mind that signing up for something willingly, and being forced into a situation are two completely different scenarios.

When I arrived at the event I experienced a combination of emotions. Fear and anxiety were the most prevalent. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. I questioned what I was doing. I wondered many times if I were crazy, and decided with each of those wonderings that I had lost my mind. So much, that I kept walking toward the starting line.

I witnessed participants from every direction revving themselves up—chanting similar tunes to athletes before a big game. Some were crowdsurfing, laughing and carefree—as if their whole lives had brought them to that point. And despite my own fear and anxiety, the excitement around me was contagious. Which was a good thing.

I put on my gloves, started stretching, and imagined myself in Valerie's shoes. Which included identifying with her position, and why she was there in the first place. I told myself that I didn't have a choice—I had to get through it. "Don't think. Just do it," quickly became my motto; one that would carry me to the finish line.

I don't remember what prompted us to begin running. Whether it was someone shouting GO, or if it was a recorded countdown of some kind. All I remember was the crowd in front of me moving, and myself following close behind. I was in the zone—focused on what was ahead of me and how I suddenly had no way of getting out of it without becoming embarrassed if I decided to tuck tail and run the other way.

I didn't know if I was going to get through every obstacle, or if I'd fall flat on my face in the mud.
I considered how my cousin had come out to race with me (who, mind you, had not ran, trained, ate, or slept like she'd needed to for such an event), and how quitting would have let her down. So I let my fear, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy be replaced by determination. All I thought about was taking one step at a time. All I knew was that I was going to finish that race, no matter how difficult it would be.

When I tell you that we ran five miles in the mud—it is no exaggeration! It stormed the day before and left the course with several different textures of dirt and water. There were spots on the course where mud was so thick, that people were losing their shoes in it (myself included about 2.5 miles in). It was like a suction cup grabbing at my shoes—slowing down my pace, and trying to convince me to quit.

Other areas were hills covered in muddy water. This mud was not thick, and made it extremely difficult for participants not to slip and fall. There were several points where I thought I was going to fall on my face and go sliding back down the hill. But I learned that if I tried to run on the patches of pine needles on the side of the trail instead of the slippery slope, it would provide me with enough traction to keep from falling. So I did.

And then came the obstacles.

The first was named "Shriveled Richard," which left a lasting impression on most of it's participants.

Myself included.

This obstacle was submersion into a tub full of ice water. Getting in, we were told by instructors not to jump (no argument here), as the water only came up past my belly button. But then we realized our path was blocked by a ledge at the other end. The instructors smiled and announced that we needed to go under the ledge to get to the other side. I looked at them and shrieked, "You want me to do what?" as if maybe I'd heard them incorrectly. I hadn't.

I took a deep breath and went under water. And that's when I thought I'd died.

The water was so cold—I couldn't think about anything. I didn't know why I was there, or what was going on. I didn't know how to deal with the shock that my body was going through. And when I came out from under it, I swear I thought my heart had stopped. And so did this guy:

Like Jack from Titanic explained to Rose about being under ice cold water, "It's like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can't breathe, you can't think." It was absolutely horrible! It wasn't an obstacle Valerie will experience, but I had to get through it because it was part of the race.

Once I could breathe again, I got the heck out of that water as fast as possible. It took awhile for the shock to wear off, but we had places to go, and obstacles to conquer.

Next, we experienced many obstacles that included barbed wire, walls that were too high for me to reach without a boost, and submersions into muddy water. I had to climb platforms that were 15-20 feet high, and jump off into muddy water. I had to climb high walls made of ropes, and then talk myself into coming down on the other side (I'm afraid of heights y'all). "Don't think, just do it," continued to be my mantra.

There were many more obstacles that were different from the rest. One in particular included walking across a narrow beam that was surrounded by water. I took one look at that water and said out loud, "I'm getting across that beam. I'm not going into that water." And I did.

It was easier said than done though.

The beam slanted halfway through, requiring me to reposition my feet while still trying to balance. The narrow beam and the slant weren't even the most challenging part, however. That took place when the people on the other beams around me started to fall—causing the entire structure to shake. I didn't breathe y'all. I stood there with my arms out like a bird—looking ridiculous, and waited for the shaking to pass. When it finally did, I would continue moving my way along the beam until I was close enough to the other side to jump. I was relieved when I had made it, because that water was nasty!

The last obstacle I'm going to write about was the one that really put me in my character's position. It was a forty-three foot wall that began as a ramp, and ended at a ninety degree angle. Here is a photo of the ramp (mind you—it does not do it justice).

This obstacle was difficult for many reasons. One of them being that in order to get up the wall, I needed to catch the rope first. Easier said than done. I was determined though, and I caught it all FOUR times.

Hanging from the rope, supporting my body weight with my arms, and trying not to let it slip from my fingers—was another challenge. It was a miracle I even caught the rope to begin with, but I was also doing a run-and-jump, Michael-Jordan-leap-from-Space-Jam type of move.

After I caught the rope I soon discovered that it was really slippery. As much as I tried to hold on and not fall, I couldn't help it. Even with wearing gloves, friction was not my friend.

The second time, I tried to wrap the rope around my arm, but that was an epic fail. I climbed up past the first knot and had just reached the second, when I started to slip again. I tried to grip the bottom knot in between my knees, but I still wasn't able to hold it long enough. The crowd behind me started to cheer because of the tactic I was using to hang on, but then I lost traction and went sliding back down the ramp.

On my third attempt to conquer Colossus I grabbed the rope, hung on, and was almost to the top when I felt myself starting to slip again. Some participants up there tried to grab my arm to help me get over, but I slipped back down before I could reach them. That time, mud flicked into my eye as I slid back down. I spent the next few minutes trying to get it out by blinking, because mine and everyone else's hands were covered in mud (one of the reasons why the ropes were so slippery)!

The fourth time was similar. I ran, jumped, grabbed the rope, and was almost to the top when I started slipping. The same participant that had been trying to help me on my other attempts grabbed my hand from the top. The situation appeared to have more hope than my other attempts, until I lost the rope altogether. I was suddenly experiencing the sensation of what it was like to hang from a cliff. I heard the crowd behind me gasp, and I did not like the situation any more than they did. My choice was simple: find some inner strength I didn't know I had and hang on, or fall from forty-three feet in the air and become injured. I decided on my first choice.

When I looked up, all I saw were hands coming at me. I didn't see faces, I didn't know names, all I knew was I was hanging there powerless of getting the rest of the way to the top without their help. My body was aching from hanging on for what felt like an eternity (although I knew it had only been about a minute), but there was no way in heck I was falling from that position. I knew that if I did, I'd probably scrape the skin off of my face the whole way down. The odds of breaking something were also pretty high, and Valerie Deen wasn't allowed to fail.

I felt myself being lifted up, and like a bowling ball smacking into a bunch of pins—so went my body into several muscular men. I laid there for a moment—not because I wanted to, but because my body had no strength or energy. (Remember, I'm a runner—not a strength trainer, and that obstacle definitely took a toll on my upper body strength!) After a few moments I lifted myself up—ready to tackle the next obstacle. When I did, there were about five men around me yelling, "Yeah! You did it! You did it 'cuz you didn't give up!" 

I could've died (exaggeration—hopefully), but they were right.

The next part was absolutely terrifying y'all. When I first began Colossus I had no idea what was on the other side of it. I labored, got mud in my eye, and did crazy leaps into the air; but my only focus was on getting past it—not how I'd eventually get back to the ground.

You see my friends, I'm really afraid of heights. I was that kid at Disneyland who climbed to the top of the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House—only to realize how high I was, and that I was in need a pep-talk to come back down (true story). And Colossus was another tree house experience for me. 

I'd had to put my fear of heights in check many more times on the race, but the adrenaline was flowing freely, and the other obstacles were not nearly as high as they were on Colossus.

In order to get back down to the ground, I had to sit my rear on a ledge and slide down into a giant pool of muddy water. I was already covered in mud (one reason why the ropes were so slippery), but I'm also afraid of murky water. Basically, if it's not pool or bath water, I ain't gettin' in! 

There were other small puddles of mud water that I had to submerge myself into, and even another that I had to jump into before this obstacle. But after conquering Colossus, I was just done with facing my fears for the day—even if I had been successful with all of them so far.

I took one look at the water and said to my cousin, "I'm not doing this. Where's the ladder to get back down." And I wasn't kidding.

But my dauntless-to-the-core cousin tilted her head at me and said, "Heather, it's part of the Savage Race. You need to do it. C'mon."

I thought about what she said and glanced back at the water (far below me, mind you). I thought about Valerie—who also happens to be afraid of heights, and remembered why I was doing the race in the first place—to empathize with her situation.

"Don't think. Just do it," I told myself (for the hundredth time that day).

My cousin went down first and loved every moment of it. I let some other participants go ahead of me, and finally I sat down on the ledge (believing that I had officially lost it). My cousin, who was swimming happily in the muddy water below, yelled, "Just close your eyes and do it!"

So I did. I plugged my nose, closed my eyes, and left the platform behind me.

I crashed into the water, and my legs swam above my head. I freaked out for a second, hoping I would swim to the surface instead of the bottom. I also worried about not being able to open my eyes if I felt I'd needed to, because the water was so muddy and I wouldn't be able to see anything anyway. I was terrified, and swam to what I thought was the surface—fast.

I don't think I was ever so happy to come out of water before. Including the ice water obstacle (omg that one was so horrible)! I got the heck out of that water, and back on the ground.

After conquering two of my worst fears, I only had to jump over fire and pull a cinder block up a hill and carry it back down (only lol). The adrenaline was still heavy, and those were no big deal. Height and muddy water weren't involved, so I was okay. :)

We finished the race and did so with pride. My cousin hadn't trained in any way for the race, except for her indulgences in fast food. She ran five miles in the mud, conquered almost all of the obstacles, and finished the race ready for a giant burger.

I struggled to conquer two of my worst fears, but I did. I ran that race high on adrenaline, for and with my character, and I overcame until I passed the finish line.

It was an awesome experience, and I could go on for several more paragraphs telling you about it. But I'll be here all night if I do! 

My cousin and I went to Five Guys and ordered the biggest burgers they had, and fries to go with it. Then we went to the grocery store and loaded up on sweets to indulge when we got home.

When we arrived, we were still disgusting from our day's adventures. We showered and were ready to party, but then soon realized the adrenaline had worn off. Our appetite for sweets didn't last long, and both of us went to sleep early. We were covered in bruises, scrapes, cuts, and some serious muscle soreness. We both felt like we'd gotten hit by a bus lol.

Now that you've read about my recent adventure of being a method writer, I hope you'll enjoy the scene in my book that corresponds with the obstacle course. Will Valerie be able to push past her fears and make it through the drill? Will she obey orders at all costs? Or will she fail?

Find out in my upcoming book Acts of Valerie, book one in the series.

One more thing before I go: these bad boys are a replica of the t-shirt Valerie Deen wears during her training (and what my cousin and I wore during the Savage Race). They are only for sale until Saturday, May 9th. So, if you want to be a part of #teamactsofvalerie, and want others to know that you are, get one before the sale is over.

Here's the link to purchase one:

Until then, happy writing!