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Guest Post: Dalya Moon on Writing Her First Novel

Thursday, December 1, 2011
For those of you who have tried writing one, you will know that writing a novel is no easy feat. Published authors know best of all, and I'd like to thank the authors who write the books that I love to death. Today, Dalya Moon is here to talk about a little about writing a novel and offer some writing tips through her story. Specifically, she will be talking about writing her first novel Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner.

It's 1988, and Charlie Woodchuck is the most minor of niners. At thirteen, she’s the youngest girl at Snowy Cove High School, and so clueless, she wore leg warmers and acid-wash jeans on her first day. Big mistake! Almost as big a mistake as signing up for a boys-only shop class. Doy.

Just when she thinks the first week of high school can’t get any more weird, Charlie discovers she may be adopted. According to her Science textbook, her eyes should be blue, not brown.

Now the girl with the boy’s name will have to use her detective skills to uncover the mystery of her identity. She'll need the help of best friend Stacy, expert blackmailer, and new friend Ross, expert class clown.

Before the year ends, Charlie will face down the biggest bullies of all: the all-powerful members of Snowy Cove’s School Board. The Board doesn't like what Charlie's been up to, and they're all out of doughnuts.

Thanks Kris, for having me on your blog today! For all the aspiring writers, or the merely curious, I'd be happy to share the story of how I wrote my first novel.

Before 2009, I'd never written a word of fiction, because I didn't know how.

I spent most of my teens with my face in a novel, and yet, the process by which they were made remained a mystery. I assumed "real writers" had entire stories in their heads, like how we all have the tale of Cinderella in our heads, and writing a novel was more about the wording.

I had enjoyed painting and pottery, and was looking for a new hobby when I came across an introductory course for creative writing. It was called "Life into Fiction." Exactly what I wanted to learn!

The teacher was a lovely woman--an award-winning novelist and poet with a stylish scarf. In the first class, she didn't tell us anything about fiction, but got us to write some short exercises using our own memories. I want my money back, I thought grumpily. I wrote something quite personal. And then, surprise, she asked us each to read what we'd written out loud. The room got quiet and still. Someone laughed nervously.

But, we read our short written pieces, and some people cried, but we all agreed that everything written that day was interesting. Our lives and feelings are interesting, and those are the things stories are made from.

By the end of the course, we'd all learned a bit more about fiction and were writing short stories based loosely on our own experiences.

I wanted to tackle a novel, but I didn't know where to begin.

One morning, I remembered a feeling I'd had as a young teenager--specifically, being disappointed that I didn't stand out more. My grades were good, but I wasn't the best at anything, and there was the lingering dissatisfaction I'd felt since the Cinderella play (more on that in a bit). I wished I could turn back the clock and do something different, even if it meant getting in trouble.

In the midst of this daydream, I realized I could use those feelings as a jumping-off point for a novel. I was so caught up in the idea, I didn't even realize it would be a YA (Young Adult) novel.

The next day, I wrote the original opening scene for what would become Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner. I say "original" because during revisions, I edited that scene out, but in the first draft, the story began with Charlie graduating from eighth grade and acting in an end-of-year school play.

Charlie wore a humiliating padded fat suit and playing an ugly stepsister in a Cinderella play, exactly as I had at that age. And, like me, she wasn't that great. In fact, the student playing the other ugly stepsister, Kendra Price, was hilarious and completely stole the show--as if it wasn't already bad enough being called "ugly" over and over again during the play! For weeks after the play, Charlie's father kept talking about how wonderful Kendra had been in the play. (I adore my dad, but I'm sorry to say this was also based on my life!) In the novel, Charlie pledged silently that next year, in high school, things would be different.

At that point in writing the book, I got stuck. In real life, I didn't do anything remarkable after the Cinderella play. As I sat there, staring at the screen, more things that had irked me as a teen came to mind. Girls weren't allowed to take woodworking at my junior high. Charlie could do something about that. This meant the novel couldn't be set in modern day, because thankfully such restrictions have lifted, so I said what the heck, and set it in the 1980s. Write what you know, I figured. I didn't realize the 1980s setting would be a stumbling block to publication, nor did I consider the commercial viability of the story, because I wasn't even thinking about publication. I had this feeling in my guts and I wanted to write it out.

What else could happen to Charlie? I knew she would need to face challenges to grow as a character. What else would I throw at her? My friend had just shared with me his adoption story, so I asked to borrow from his life experience to add a mystery element and family drama to the story.

Little did I know how challenging it would be to have two major plot lines happening in one novel! Seriously, this is not recommended for beginners.

Somehow, I got through that first draft. Every day, I aimed to write 2,000 words, a figure many writers use as a target, perhaps because that's how much Stephen King says he writes. (Which just shows you the foolishness of beginner writers--trying to be like Stephen King!) After forty days of writing every day, at a slower pace than I'd hoped, I had a completed first draft with an ending and everything. Hold your applause--that's not that amazing, as it was quite a short novel--only 40,000 words, compared to 100,000 words for an average-size adult novel.

Over the next year, I took a few more writing courses and read about a dozen craft books. Craft books are what we writers call books that teach you how to write fiction. They're also something I didn't even know existed, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered rows and rows of such books, and great ones, too.

I suggest any aspiring writer pick up at least five craft books. It doesn't matter which ones, as they all overlap and contradict each other, but you'll be able to pick out the information you can use. Remember, all advice is both worthless and priceless.

I'd like to tell you how many times I revised (edited) Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner, but I lost count. Many things were changed, even the name. Originally, I had called it Go Penguins, which, as a name, is of course both brilliant and awful, right?

I was working on the novel continuously, because it was on my mind even when I was away from the computer. I kept removing scenes and replacing them with new ones, adding people in and taking them out. Some of my favorite parts, like the scene in the movie theatre where Otter tricks Charlie into holding his hand, were the last parts I wrote. I giggled like crazy the whole time I wrote that scene.

At times, I feared I'd never be finished. I kept destroying things--first a vehicle, then an entire wing of the school. What more could I destroy, I wondered. Would there be anything left if I kept going?

So, how do you know when a novel is finished? I can't speak for other authors, but for me, it's when I can sit down with printed pages and a pen and not find anything I want to change. I got there in November 2010, and began my path to publication, which is a different story entirely.

Thinking back over my time writing my first novel makes me smile. I hope people will love reading Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner as much as I did writing it.

Dalya's Website | Twitter
Dalya Moon writes novels that are called "sweet" and "light-hearted." She may have to one day murder someone (on the page) to be taken seriously, but for now she’s happy to not be taken seriously at all. She is the author of Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner and Practice Cake, which are both available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Related Posts
My Review of Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner

9 comments on "Guest Post: Dalya Moon on Writing Her First Novel"
  1. Hi everyone, and thanks for having me! If anyone has questions or comments about writing or 80s fashions, I'll try to answer them here as best I can.

  2. I think that some writers do have entire stories floating around in their heads before they begin to write. Stephen King strikes me as one of those people. My friend Meg said it perfectly when she stated, "I would hate to be him...all those voices clamoring for attention in his mind." She's probably right. I bet Mr. King is just a tad bit insane.

    Anyway, this is a great window into your writing process, Dalya. I see a lot of what I do in my own writing reflected here. Of course, I took a different path but the themes are familiar.


  3. If the inspiration pixies paid a visit from Mr. King's house and gave me a full novel, I'd be pretty happy (though worried about where it came from, just a bit!) What would that be like to have the entire novel in your head, I wonder. I swear every time I read my novels I find things I forgot I wrote.

  4. Thank you so much for the guest post, Dalya! I loved the bit about Stephen King, as I just finished reading On Writing. :) Can't wait to read BOTH of your books!

  5. I think it's great that you went out and honed your craft. It can be very insightful to see how other people write and even if it doesn't work for you there are many other things to learn. Best of luck with your writing.

  6. Wow. The whole process you went through to learn how to write fiction seems so arduous. It's so nice to see how you persevered and managed to get on the path toward publication. Congrats!

  7. Wow! What an interesting journey to writing your first novel. I identify with the frustration of having good grades but never standing out. I've heard of Stephen King's On Writing and hope to read it some day, but I haven't really heard of many other good craft books out there. I hope to read Charlie Woodchuck is a Minor Niner soon!:)

  8. Thanks for sharing your journey and I loved the bit about Stephen King. Best of luck in all you do

  9. Just a quick little update 6 months later. It would seem a book's journey never really "ends." I have actually shortened the name of the book, to Charlie, and it has a cute new cover, a custom illustration.

    I also jumped forward in time twenty-some years and wrote another novel that takes place in the same town and the same high school. (Different characters, though there are a few that make an appearance, albeit much older.)

    So ... the journey continues!

    Thanks again for having me on the blog, Kris. :-)


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