Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top Five Tips for Aspiring Novelists by Jenny Davidson + Giveaway!

In the genre-bending literary thriller The Magic Circle by Columbia University professor Jenny Davidson, three young women invent a live-action role-playing game that goes terribly awry. Lucy, Ruth, and Anna are academics who study the culture of gaming. With New York City as their playground, they design games based on the secret history of the neighborhood around Columbia University. From Grant’s Tomb to the insane asylum that once stood where the campus is now, the chilling past makes Morningside Heights the perfect setting for their daring games.

Roommates Ruth and Lucy join forces with their mysterious Swedish neighbor Anna to develop an immersive game based on The Bacchae. In Euripides’ classic play, a young man, Pentheus, denies the divinity of the god Dionysus and pays a high price for asserting the values of reason over passion. When Anna’s seductive brother Anders gets involved and introduces “LARP”ing (live-action role-playing), their ideas become reality and the game goes from thrilling to terrifying.

Davidson’s state-of-the-art narrative structure includes blog posts, text messages, and Google-chats—mixing contemporary culture with the enduring drama of The Bacchae. The Magic Circle delves into the sociology of live-action role-playing and highlights the fine line between gaming and real life.

Writing Tips for Aspiring Novelists

  1. Develop a set of habits that you can count on. I like to write my first draft longhand, with a writing implement and notebook chosen for that specific project. Sometimes it’s a gel pen that lays a beautiful thick trail of ink along the ruled lines of the page; sometimes it’s a thick super-soft super-dark pencil that lets me fill unruled pages very easily in big scribbled words. Going and choosing the paper and pen is part of the ritual of beginning a new project. (Note: I do my first edit when I type that initial draft into the computer. If you like writing your first draft on the computer, see tip #5 below.)
  2. When I was in graduate school, I had several friends who found it easier to train for marathons than to write their dissertations. I found this strange, as I was a much better writer than runner. In my mid-30s, though, I discovered the appeal of endurance sport. Why is marathon training easier than writing a book? Because you decide on a training plan, do what it tells you to do and complete your race—marathon over! The finish line for a book is endlessly movable: I would guess that each book I’ve written so far has been “finished” at least a dozen times, with each new “finish” (first draft, revision, further revision, etc.) requiring a massive amount of effort with no clear reward. The take-away? Try and set up your writing schedule like one of the couch-to-5K training plans on the internet, or like a marathon training plan if you’ve already got good writing habits. If you sit down every day, first for half an hour, then for an hour once you’ve built up some momentum, and write a few sentences, your book will get written. Doing a little every day is better than doing a lot only once in a while. If you write 500 words a day (it’s not that many, as long as you’re not putting pressure on yourself for perfection), you could have a 60,000-word novel drafted in less than six months. Try NaNoWriMo to bang out a draft in a month, and set aside subsequent months for revising and editing the initial sloppy draft.
  3. Accept the fact that most novels you’ve enjoyed reading have been edited at least half-a-dozen times by their author and a team of professionals. Your first draft will have good points, but it’s for your eyes only. Write it without censoring yourself and without worrying about how good it is, whether you know how to spell things, etc. But the flip side of that is that you should do at least one pass through the whole thing (for spelling, grammar and general clarity of language on the one hand, and to catch obvious inconsistencies or absurdities on the other) before you ask anybody for feedback. Your reader-editors will be much more likely to see important things you can’t always identify yourself—about character development, about how to make dramatic sense of things that happen—and give you suggestions about how to fix them if they’re not distracted by tons of typos and grammatical errors.
  4. Read a lot. Read in different genres, read books that are better than the one you think you can write and a lot worse. Read for enjoyment as well as with your analytic mind to see how different writers handle character, voice, point of view.
  5. Get away from the internet whenever you can. I think there never has been a harder time to sit down and write, with internet temptations so rampant. Go to a library or a cafe where there’s no wireless signal. Turn off your wireless. Download a program like Freedom so that you can carve out internet-free zones of concentration for your work. Have your half-hour of writing first, THEN frivol away some time on the internet! Otherwise it’s all too easy to sit at the computer for hours without getting even a few hundred new words onto the page.

About the Author

Jenny Davidson is a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. She is the author of the novel Heredity (2003); two YA novels, The Explosionist (2008) and Invisible Things (2010); and several academic books. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and originally from London, England.



It was such a pleasure getting your perspective on writing advice, Jenny! A comparative lit professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world AND an author—wow! Readers, these tips are not to be taken lightly ;) Hope you got as much out of Jenny's article as I did!

We've got one print copy of The Magic Circle up for grabs to one lucky Books à la Mode reader! To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form below :) 

All this talk about Columbia is filling my mind with sociology, which is a field I want to pursue! I'm a psych major but I'm thinking of declaring dual with soc because I find it fascinating. Want some extra entries? Leave me a comment! I want to know:
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