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Book Writing > Bestselling Author Bob Mayer’s Writing Tips for Novelists

Bestselling Author Bob Mayer’s Writing Tips for Novelists

Novel writing tips from bestselling author Bob Mayer’s talk at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in British Columbia. His advice ranged from outlining a book to creating narrative structure.

Are you struggling to outline and write your novel? You’re not alone!

“Completing any writing project, particularly a novel, is a daunting prospect,” says Mayer. “Many people become frozen by the prospect. Others keep waiting for the right time. Some wait for the spark of inspiration. Even experienced writers find it is easier to do anything other than actually write.”

Mayer wrote The Novel Writer’s Toolkit and more recently Writer’s Little Black Book: Problems, Solutions and Advice To Help Write, Publish and Profit.

Mayer is an extremely organized author who meticulously outlines and dissects his novels. He approaches his novel writing like it’s a business, with Excel spreadsheets, index cards, whiteboards, butcher paper.

You don’t need to copy Mayer’s work habits to write a book. He stresses that writers should use the method that works best for them.

Bob Mayer’s Tips on Writing a Novel

  • A story is a character trying to resolve a problem. The character must plausibly solve the problem.”
  • Study the masters, especially by reading first novels. Read books that are similar to the ones you want to write.
  • Do a plot dissection. I don’t have Mayer’s “how to do a plot dissection” here, but look for it in The Novel Writer’s Toolkit.
  • “We rewrote the beginning of Don’t Look Down (the book Mayer co-wrote with Jennifer Crusie) I don’t know how many times.”
  • Details drive the story. No matter how good your outline is, details are really, really important.
  • Conflict is crucial in all your scenes.
  • How you organize your daily life is how you’ll outline your book.
  • There’s a difference between a flashback and a memory. A flashback is what actually happened; a memory is what someone thinks happened.
  • Be careful of “info dumping” in your story. If your reader doesn’t need it, then cut it. He had to cut 5,000 words from his last novel!

“Everything drives toward the climactic scene,” says Mayer. “Everything in a story is done for a purpose. Don’t put a gun in act one unless you’re going to shoot it in act three.”

The Narrative Structure of a Novel

Following is the basic structure of the novel. It seems simple but it’s one of those things that are easier said than done, especially if you’re wrestling with 90,000 words.

1. Initiating Event

Open with either introducing the protagonist or introducing the problem (or both). “I’ve rewritten books so many times, I don’t even know what version was published,” says Mayer. Read the opening of Day of the Jackal for an example of a great hook. Tell what the story is up front. “Your opening scene often mirrors the climactic scene, just at a lower level,” says Mayer. To illustrate this, he used the movie Elizabeth (in the beginning, hair is being cut of people being burned at the stake, and in the climactic scene, Elizabeth’s hair is cut).

2. Escalating Conflict

The events of your novel need to foreshadow to the crisis. Remember to keep asking “why now.” Why are your characters acting this way? There has to be a reason. You need internal logic, not coincidence – though Mayer says that Bryce Courtenay is big on coincidental occurrences.

3. Crisis

“This is the darkest moment, when it looks as if all is lost,” says Mayer. Fight or flee are the two options. Will your protagonist stay and fight the antagonist, or run far far away? Make it suspenseful – not an obvious choice. Keep the readers in the dark about what the protagonist is going to do.

4. Climax

Protagonist versus antagonist, and one of them wins. It’s the solution to the problem you introduced at the beginning. Reread your opening chapter after you’re done reading (or writing) a book: you’ll see the seeds of the climactic scene.

5. Resolution

One last scene, which is the emotional pay-off to the reader. Show the physical or emotional change in the protagonist. The resolution is a return to stability or a new reality.

Mayer wrote The Novel Writer’s Toolkit and more recently Writer’s Little Black Book: Problems, Solutions and Advice To Help Write, Publish and Profit.

Writer’s Little Black Book: Problems, Solutions and Advice To Help Write, Publish and Profit

Are you bored with your book, characters or even the plot? Read Lost Interest in Writing Your Novel? How to Love Your Characters.

If you attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in BC, please comment below. I’d love to hear what you thought of it.


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