Novel in a Month Review
As you can probably guess from the title, the main aim of Novel in a Month is to get you from a blank screen to a completed novel in 28 days or less.
At first glance, this sounds like one of those promises you'd see on late night television. The kind of claim a 30 minute advertisement would make.
The purpose of this review is to see whether the claim is fact or fiction. Can an ordinary person really write a novel in their spare time in just a month? And, if they manage to do that, is it good enough to get published and actually sell some copies? Or will it only be the kind of book that's fit for one of those vanity publishing services where you pay all the production costs?
Let's start with what you get:
Before the CD arrives, make sure you follow the instructions in that email to check that you've got the latest version of Adobe Acrobat reader. I mistakenly thought that the nagging messages I got from Acrobat to check for the latest version would do just that (so trusting, aren't I?). And I subsequently spent time with the support desk to get Adobe's problem sorted - it turned out that the "latest version" was only the latest version of the reader I had, not the newest version they'd released. So pop along to Adobe's site while you're waiting for your CD to arrive and make sure that you really have the latest free PDF reader.
When the CD arrives, it contains the main 140 page Novel in a Month course and several other files that will help once you've actually written your novel.
The main course is split into 4 weeks:
If you've ever started to write a book before, you'll know that at first glance it seems an almost insurmountable challenge. After all, how can you go from a blank Word document to a printed book with lots of pages?
If you had to sit down and write your book in one sitting, it would likely be a challenge too far.
So the first thing that Novel in a Month teaches you is how to change how you perceive the task.
Could you sit down and write for hours and hours and hours until your book was finished? Probably not.
Could you sit at your computer and tap away for an hour a day? Possibly. But even that's often a stretch as everyday life gets in the way.
What about "stealing" 15 minutes at a time from your daily schedule? Could you do that three or four times a day? Now we're talking.
The author of Novel in a Month writes novels. But they're not his full time job. Which means that you're being taught by someone who has "been there and got the t-shirt". He's not a full time fiction author. And he's used these exact same techniques to write a novel inside twenty eight days whilst still doing other work.
I haven't counted the words myself, but apparently most novels are between 60,000 and 100,000 words. Some are shorter. Others are longer. But those are typical lengths. At between 300 and 500 words per printed page, these would turn into books with a couple hundred pages upwards.
There are quite a few simple tricks like this that will show you how you can write your novel in bite sized chunks, borrowing the time from other, less productive, time in your day.
One thing that Novel in a Month assumes is that you can type at a reasonable speed. Probably because the author writes for a living.
I'm a two finger "hunt and peck" typist and manage about 40 words a minute on a good day. If your typing speed is too slow, there are a couple things you can do. The obvious one is to get a course online to improve your typing speed.
The less obvious one is to stop typing altogether and speak your book, using a program like Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe as you type. If you've used an early version and found it was poor at doing this, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how well it's come on. Most people speak a lot faster than even the best typist - speeds of 150 words per minute are typical - so this is definitely worth investigating.
Next up, there's a discussion of what makes a good story. You'll need to come up with your own plot ideas but this section shows how you can expand your ideas to make your new novel un-put-downable.
It goes into making sure that your synopsis is good. This isn't the summary that appears on the back of the novel itself. It's a succinct outline of the complete story that you could write on the back of a napkin and still have space for lots of other things.
Get this part right and you're well on your way to keeping yourself on track.
You'll be shown how to boil your synopsis down until you can summarise your whole novel in just two sentences.
And if you're mind has just said "Eek! I can't do that!", don't worry. You'll be shown how to do it. Fairly effortlessly.
After your synopsis is done, you'll be shown how to expand it into a series of chapter titles.
See how this process is getting easier?
If I said to you "Write me a complete novel. Now" the chances are that you'd throw up your arms in horror and never get it done.
But if I said "Write your next chapter from the title you've already worked out" then there's a better then average chance that you could do that.
You're given a number of simple techniques to get your chapter titles into a good enough state for you to be able to write the chapters that they contain.
You're also shown how to get the order of your chapters logical. Which probably won't be the order you first thought of.
Novel in a Month teaches you this by expanding the synopsis of the film Jaws (which was based on a novel) firstly into two halves and then into the sections that go into each of these parts.
By the time you've gone through this part of the process, you won't have written a single word of your novel. But you'll be much closer to the finished product than if you'd just randomly started typing. And it doesn't take too long to go through this procedure, so you can start writing your novel soon enough.
If you're clueless about what you're going to write your novel about, you'll enjoy the next section.
I fall into this category. I had a crazy idea one day that I ought to write a novel. But at the time of writing this review, I have no idea what it will be about.
The 17 questions listed should give anyone more than enough ideas for a shelf full of novels.
After that, the report goes into 7 methods to keep your readers interested.
If you've read the Da Vinci Code or seen a television series such as 24, you'll have some good ideas on how to do this.
This section makes those ideas concrete. It spells out the importance of things like suspense as well as lots of other ways to keep your readers captivated and anxious to read more.
All this is designed to get your novel-to-be chunked down into small enough sections that it's actually really easy to write.
An ideal would be to get your novel split down into a couple hundred "ideas" and then to write a page or so about them. By the time you've finished the week one section, you should be pretty close to this. Then the actual writing won't seem anything like as daunting.
And you'll be able to write for long enough to get your thoughts down on paper or into electrons inside your computer.
Or you'll have a small enough topic to research - maybe because you don't know quite enough about it - that you'll be able to surf for the answers with laser focus.
At this stage, you're writing your novel. Really writing it. Anything you're likely to get stuck on - characters, love interests, fights and conflicts, absolutely anything - is covered in detail. Usually with reference to something you're already likely to know, so you don't waste time working out what the point is.
The week 2 and week 3 sections are effectively reference sections that you'll dip in and out of when you need some help with your writing. Whether it's how you should start your chapters, whether the characters should talk to each other, how often they should talk (whether they're almost mute like a Clint Eastwood cowboy or so talkative that you want to reach out and gag them, like the donkey in Shrek), and all sorts of other essential ingredients.
Of course, if you're like me and still not sure of where to start, you'll want to go to the section that covers 6 universal plots.
OK, Douglas Adams boiled it down even further to "Boy-being meets girl-being under a silvery moon which then explodes for no adequately explored reason"…
The section on plots and an easy formula for plotting your book will get your creative juices flowing even if your head is currently hurting and devoid of all meaningful ideas.
The Novel in a Month report also covers the perspective you'll be writing your story from. Whether it's a narrator. Or a first person commentary (like Dexter when you hear his gruesome thought processes). Or a neutral observer. Maybe even a "distracted" point of view, like Bret Easton Ellis often uses, where you're not 100% sure whether the narrator is present or not.
Again, there's lots of pointers and help with this and the four main "points of view" for novel writing are discussed with enough detail for you to be able to decide which works best for your masterpiece.
There's also a complete chapter on how to end your novel.
You'll have experienced lots of different endings in the books you've read as well as the television shows and movies you've watched. This section covers the best ways to end your novel.
Week 3 covers a variety of "finishing touches". If you're uncomfortable writing dialogue then this section is worth reading.
For instance, you don't want all your characters to speak in your voice. But until you read some of your work out loud, it's surprising how much your voice comes across in what you write.
Try it now if you don't believe me - go back to something you wrote a while back and read it out loud. Recognize your voice there? Thought so!
There are some simple ways discussed to keep your dialogue real as well as keeping it readable and interesting.
The three main writing techniques of dialogue will keep your imagination hyperactive and make your dialogue writing easy, rather than a chore. Especially when you combine them with the other five tips for writing convincing dialogue in your novel.
If you follow all the instructions, you'll have the first draft of your novel written in around 3 weeks. The actual schedule itself is easy so long as you can spare an hour a day to turn your dream about writing a novel into reality.
Week 4 goes into editing your novel and generally preparing it to be published.
My guess is that if you've followed all the stages outlined reasonably diligently, there won't be much editing needed. Some typos, sure.
That said, over the three weeks of writing, your style may have changed. Look at an early Simpsons cartoon back to back with a newer episode to see how this works in a different medium. So there could be some editing to make your novel more consistent.
You'll be taught how to rewrite intelligently. Rather than spending longer on the rewriting than you did on the initial writing.
I'll do it with this review. Same process. Just tidy up the bits that need tidying and leave the rest as "good enough is good enough". It's sure better than not having a novel to tidy up at all.
Once your novel is ready enough, you'll need reviews.
There's a whole bonus file on getting celebrity endorsements for your novel. Once you know the tricks of the trade, they're nowhere near as difficult to get as your initial reaction would tell you.
Finally, there's a section on marketing your new novel and creating a marketing pack for it.
Publishers are busy people. So the easier you make their job for them the better. Or nowadays you may prefer to bypass them and self publish. The pros and cons of both methods are discussed. Plus whether it's worth getting yourself an agent.
Don't worry if the first agent or publishing house turns you down. J K Rowling was turned down for her Harry Potter novel eight times. The Beatles were turned down by Decca. It happens. But persistence pays off. So does using the techniques for grabbing attention that are covered
So, what are you waiting for?!
If you're at all serious about writing a story then Novel in a Month will get you on track and will help you to actually get it written. Rather than telling everyone who'll listen that you're going to write a book but not actually do anything about it (and boring them to tears in the process).