“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” You don’t want to imitate a favorite author, but you can learn a lot from him or her.

Whether you create notes for plot and character development first or dive into writing your novel, you want to get as much written as possible in your first draft. An efficient way to do this is write first, edit after. Avoid the temptation to re-read what you’ve written over and over again when you should be writing new content. You know you’re going to have to edit and rewrite (you do know this, right?). Your primary focus is to let your imagination and fingers fly so you create something to work with.

Let’s assume your first draft is completed and you’re ready to move into the phase where you work it (and work it even more) until it’s a final draft ready to go to an editor, agent, or be self-published.

Pick a novel in your genre by your favorite author. Aim for a writer or story you’d love to model your style after, yet stay unique. Turn on your attention-to-detail switch, as a writer and editor, and re-read the book.

Is it written from a first- or third-person perspective? There is a debate about whether or not an agent or publisher will consider a first-person manuscript from a new writer. However, notice how many authors use it starting with the first book in a best-selling series. It’s more important that your story emerges through you naturally rather than forced. If it happens that you write a series with the same character or characters, you need to be consistent.

Notice how much of the novel is narrative and how much is dialogue. There’s a good chance that a lot of your narrative could or should become conversations between characters. Fiction readers do not appreciate paragraph after paragraph or page after page of narrative, unless it’s riveting action. They do appreciate descriptions, but don’t want to be overwhelmed by more information than they need to imagine a scene.

Pay attention to paragraph length and breaks, and how dialogue is written. As a new writer, you may tend to make paragraphs too long rather than create a break when a new thought is introduced. If you’re not confident about how to write or format dialogue here’s your chance to let what you see guide you.

Pay attention to plot development. Sometimes flashbacks are used, but the storyline follows a linear sequence. Notice how characters move from one action to another. You want to create a movie in readers’ minds, with no missing pieces and nothing that defies logic. Even science fiction is written in a way that allows fantasy to be logical to readers.

What do you appreciate about the way your favorite author develops the main characters? Characters should have positive and negative traits. No character can be all good or all bad; they must be people we can relate to at the human level. You may have characters that make cameo appearances; watch that you don’t give too much background information on them if they aren’t critical to the story.

Look at the technical aspects. How are chapters divided? Pay attention to punctuation, including use of dashes and ellipses; note that a character’s personal thoughts are shown in italics. Observe the absence of run-on sentences. Note: If you write for an American audience, choose an American author with an American publisher until you become proficient. If your favorite author is British and published in England, it’s likely there will be contrasts.

How is action written? Compare the author’s action scenes to yours. Action is also supported by writing active: avoid words that end in “ing,” unless absolutely necessary. Example: “He was using a hammer” is sharper when written as “He used a hammer.”

Your ultimate goal is to write a novel that engages readers from start to finish. Provide a movie they experience in their imaginations; one that flows with no distractions created by technical glitches, incomplete information, or a conclusion that falls flat.

Key to this process is that you have fun while you move through it, from first word to last. Writing is a personal-best challenge; but your enjoyment as a storyteller will show in your writing. Such enjoyment translates as energy to readers and agents. If you do a good job and have fun with the process, even if the theme is serious, readers will respond.

Author's Bio: 

Joyce Shafer (jls1422@yahoo.com) is a life coach and published writer who helps new writers expand their skills and confidence. Her e-book, “Write, Get Published, and Promote: An Easy eGuide for New and Aspiring Writers,” is available at lulu.com and discounted at her Web site. See coaching programs for new writers at freewebs.com/writegetpublishedandpromote.