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  • January

3 things i've learned about writing novels

How the 'flow state' can be your best friend; characters - annoyingly - don't write themselves; and tropes exist for a reason. Novel-writing tips that have worked for me.

1) I now understand what a ‘flow state’ is.

The first novel I wrote will never see the light of day – it was 120,000 words long for a start, filled with tangent after tangent which I couldn’t bring myself to edit out, and had so many ‘worlds’ in it, even the most accommodating of readers would have ended up with a migraine.

BUT, it is the novel I’m most proud of. It proved to me I could write an entire novel, regardless of how bad it was, in just two months (probably a big reason why it was so bad). Plus, I wrote 120,000 words. 120,000 words! How did I manage that? I got into a flow state, regularly. It’s a state where you become so engrossed in what you’re doing, you’re not aware of your senses. In yoga there’s a term called pratyahara which also refers to dulling the senses in order to focus the mind.

When I got into a flow state I could write for hours without eating, drinking or speaking to anyone. If you can get into a flow state, especially with your first draft, you can bash out the story and get all your thoughts down, then edit out all the unnecessary bits with the second draft.

2) Characters don’t always write themselves.

Some of them are really stubborn and need as much direction as they can get. And some are quite disobedient and even with some direction, can refuse to behave in a certain way. What helps me and my characters the most is having a chapter breakdown ready to begin with. That way I know what a character needs to do in each scene in order to take the reader through the story arc. But I leave enough wiggle room to allow them to develop their own tics and behaviours. The idea is they have the freedom to design their own path but they still get to the destination I want them to.

3) Tropes exist for a reason

A trope is a recognisable plot element or theme. Some people like to try and avoid them, as you would a stereotype, but I personally think they play a critical role in helping readers figure out if they’re going to enjoy a story or not. The romance genre is FULL of tropes and some authors even outline their primary trop on the front cover e.g. a tale of forbidden romance. I figure that, in the same way people like certain foods, hobbies, sexual positions (yup), they’re likely to be drawn to a favourite storyline. I know I am.

Some of the really popular tropes are friends to lovers, secret love, sexy billionaire, second chance romance, love triangle and feisty heroine.

I would say my tropes are workplace romance, secret love, sexy billionaire and feisty heroine. My girls are strong, intelligent and ambitious. My boys are rich, sexy and unattainable – or so they think. The workplace is their setting and forbidden love provides the tension. I stick to these tropes because I want my readers to know what they can expect with a January James novel.

I'd love to know what your favourite tropes are!

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