Today on #TheBookshelf we take a look at Nathan Bransford’s How To Write a Novel: 49 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever.
Every writer I know has a collection of books about writing. Speaking for my own collection, think Smaug the dragon from The Hobbit and you’re not far off.
Some of these books are massive and cover the broader scope of story itself, like Alice LaPlante’s The Making of Story, while others are small enough to fit in your back pocket and distill their advice into it’s essentials, like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Some are semi-autobiographical, like Stephen King’s On Writing, and others contain workshop-style exercises, like Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.
And while some have a serious, academic tone, others are more akin to having a conversation with a writer friend.
Nathan Bransford’s How To Write a Novel definitely feels like the latter.
This guide to novel writing is a series of 49 rules, grouped into four sections: First Things First, Pen to Paper, Troubleshooting and Staying Sane, and Revising.
Writing a novel is a massive undertaking with a lot of moving parts. This book takes you through the process from concept to revision, covering bigger picture issues like the writing life and chasing trends (don’t), and the nitty-gritty things like formatting and (for the love of all things holy) backing up your work. There are rules for style, genre, ideas, plot and theme, setting, chapter beginnings and endings, and my favourite: tentpoles–the events that prop up your story like a circus tent. There are rules for things you could do, rules for things you should do, and rules for things that you absolutely must not do.
But it’s important to stop yourself from chasing after an idea by shaking your biography like a piggy bank to see what shiny things fall out.Nathan Bransford, “How To Write a Novel.”
I really enjoyed this book. I re-read it and refer to it often, and I recommend it to writers at any stage of their writing journey.
First, the rules are short. I’m a freelance writer and editor working from home with two teenagers in remote school, a husband who is also working from home…and a cat. I am interrupted so much it’s should be comical–except it’s really not. In How To Write a Novel, each rule is 4-7 pages long and gets to the point without messing around. Easy to read a rule between interruptions!
Second, the advice. Within its pages, you will find valuable tools, tips and tricks that you can immediately put to use, no matter where you are with your current WIP (work in progress). Nathan’s rules are clear, helpful, and he uses relatable and familiar examples taken from his own work, popular fiction, and the classics. (It’s worth noting that while the foundational terms and theories he mentions are briefly-but well-explained, if someone is putting pen to paper for the very first time, they may want to check out a more detailed guide to the mechanics of story and then come back to this book.)
Finally–and most of all–I loved this book for the heart within its style. Nathan doesn’t pull any punches–writing a novel is hard– but time after time, I found myself laughing out loud at his take on the process. For me, his wit and tongue-in-cheek style are what make the rules easier to follow and remember. For some readers this casual, off-the-cuff approach might be off-putting, but I found it made the book more accessible.
When it comes to books on the writer’s craft, there is no one size fits all. The trick is to read widely and collect the advice that works for you from wherever you can. If you’re looking for guidance that is staid and/or academic, this book is not for you. But if it’s real talk and solid writing tools that you need, How To Write a Novel might be exactly the right book to add to your
For more information: Nathan Bransford is an author and former literary agent whose website and newsletters are packed with helpful information for writers. Find him at https://nathanbransford.com/
And don’t miss this interview with the author.
Join me again next week on #TheBookshelf for Write to this!, a segment exploring some of my favourite music to write to!