News room: The Construction Industry's Guide to Novel Writing

The Construction Industry's Guide to Novel Writing by Jessica Barrah

Writing a book and building a house are very different endeavours. Find out what the two things have in common in our guide to constructing your novel.

The Construction Industry

In some ways, writing a novel is like building and decorating a house.*

1. First you’ve got to plan it carefully, lay careful foundations, build it up story by story (see what I did there?) and make it stable and watertight.

2. After that, you can go back in, add plumbing and electrics, and plaster the walls; flesh out the scaffolding of your story, round out each chapter.

3. Then you can decorate, paint the room the perfect colour, add curtains, rugs, and furniture, editing your work and refining your prose so that the ‘house’ is finally finished.

4. Finally add a few extra accessories – some fresh flowers, some pictures on the walls – great typesetting, some illustrations, a beautiful book cover – and it’s ready for your housewarming party/book launch!

Home Improvements

Ok, so council officials won’t actually come around if you starting ‘building’ your novel without proper planning. Perhaps you just got caught up in the moment, and made it up as you went along. If you’ve built a wonky shack, where plot holes and inconsistencies are threatening to cause your structure to collapse, it’s not too late to make a synopsis or a detailed chapter plan. You can then see how you could strengthen the foundations, altering the storyline, removing characters or plot points that don’t need to be there – or focusing more on other characters and adding further twists to your tale as needed.

Luckily, unlike bricks and mortar, you can easily change your prose if you realise half way through that it’s not looking the way you wanted. Cut out paragraphs, pages or even chapters if they don’t need to be there. Too much description or meandering dialogue could be removed without impacting on the rest of the manuscript.

If you’ve been working on your novel for many years, you might need to change or update your ‘decor’ to make your style really fresh. Re-write whole paragraphs or pages if you need to, so that your style is consistent all through. Re-word your sentences to make them shorter and more direct, without additional unneeded adverbs. You could also break up complicated ideas to make your meaning clearer. Check your text for words you might overuse, and substitute alternatives – or cut them out altogether if you can. You can also call in some skilled ‘trades’ to help finish the house to the highest standards – instead of plasterers and electricians, there are proof-readers and editors to help.

Build A Cabin

You’ve invested a lot of time and effort into ‘building’ your novel. But if things aren’t working out, sometimes, it’s just time to start something fresh. Instead of working and reworking the same old chapters, maybe you could construct a little holiday ‘cabin’ instead – something like a short story that you know that you can finish quickly.
Get inspiration from entering a competition – writing to a particular theme, word count and deadline date can really help focus the mind. We’d advise against starting a whole new novel at this point, but you could revisit a previous building project you may have abandoned – is it a ‘fixer upper’? Is there potential in it for a quick refurbishment?

A break from your long term project can help you gain perspective, and the skills learned writing to a specific word count or editing a previous book can be really useful to getting your ‘house’ finished to perfection.

Let us know about your own literary ‘Grand Designs’!
*Apologies for the tenuous extended metaphor.

Further reading:

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Written by
Jessica Barrah
Published on
Books, Authors, Writers, Self-publishing, Planning, and Editing