Write a Novel on a Napkin

I used to dream one of being one of those writers who could get on the bus every day, a yellow pad of paper in hand, and after a few weeks of doing so, step off with a novel. Or perhaps record a literary revelation on a restaurant napkin.

While I don’t think it a very easy task to write a full-length novel on a slightly soiled napkin (world’s largest sheet of paper, anyone?), the concept of writing a couple-sentence “novel” is actually helpful to condense your ideas.

It’s also a lot easier to develop your story skills by first starting off with a tiny novel, and then applying some of the same techniques to your fantastic soon-to-be book. For example, let’s take what is arguably considered the best 6-word novel in history:

“For Sale:

Baby shoes.

Never worn.”

This 6-word novel is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although that has not been proven and is widely controversial. However, the author tells a story with the content of an entire novel in only a few words. The first line is like a title, setting up certain expectations in the reader. By the end of this super short story, our expectations have been twisted and we are surprised. We never read the story the same again.

That’s how novels are often structured, too! Our expectations are set up, and by the time the end of the story comes, we are surprised and, at the same time, feel that the ending was inevitable. This is no easy task, but we can practice creating this “oh” moment in much fewer words. Say a lot with a little. Lydia Davis’s Collaboration With Fly is another of my favorites.

So if the idea strikes your interest, why not give it a shot? Use it to solidify an idea for a full novel, or use it to get ideas, or to practice saying things concisely, or to fill up that random paper napkin you stuffed in your pocket and forgot about.

I can’t say I’ve written a fifty thousand page book on the back of a napkin on my way home on the bus. But I can say I’ve written a whole story in one sentence (the one in the photo at the top of this post is one of my own). And that’s no small task.


Let’s Write a Book (Trailer)?

So you’re sitting down to finally start writing that book you’ve been mulling over for months and the first thing you need to do is…write a book trailer? Seems counter-intuitive, like putting a bow on a present before wrapping it. Actually though, it’s not a bad idea, and I’ll tell you why. First though, here’s an example of a book trailer that independent film group Starwatcher Studios made for my first novel, Dreamweaver:

Dreamweaver video screenshot
Dreamweaver by Lauren Hallstrom – Official Novel Trailer


If you look at a lot of book trailers, you’ll notice that they are simply summaries of books, which are creatively told in a visual format. It actually makes a lot of sense to map out a book trailer in your mind or write a back-of-the-book summary before you start the book itself. This holds true for a book’s elevator pitch (several sentence description that authors give when asked about their book) or a book description in a query letter too.

Starting off with a “book trailer” idea is helpful because it points the writer in the right direction, right away. I’ve written novels before that start off with a girl with fantastical abilities and then end up becoming more of a contemporary young adult journey to find oneself. If I have my book trailer script to refer to right away, I can avoid some of these rabbit holes right away, and maybe even get some foreshadowing in for that daring twist at the end, too.

Of course, all you “pantsers,” as the noveling term goes, or those who can’t stand planning, don’t despair! Another great thing about starting with a back-of-the-book cover summary or book trailer is that you don’t actually have to know where your story is heading right away. These summaries just get us excited about the book, and, conveniently enough, they don’t give away the end!

So, if you’re a visual/auditory  thinker, planning out your novel in terms of how the book trailer would look may not be a bad way to go. Or, if you just want to see some words on the page, write a thrilling, just-picked-this-up-at-the-bookstore summary. I’ve even known writers who act out scenes of their stories to get it clear in their heads. And when you’re all ready to publish, you’ll already have a freaking great summary to show for it.

Interested in creating a book trailer? Check out this site for examples of some of the best (and maybe find some good YA books to add to your shelf along the way)!


Becoming an Accidental Teen Novelist

So you want to write a novel. I inextricably found myself in this exact position when I was 15 years old. Somehow after a few short years, I ended up with a published novel, a second book that followed shortly after, and multiple book awards—all as a teenager.

Since then, I’ve come across so many kids and teens who want to write books. But have you ever noticed how adults tend to assume you will do these things “when you grow up,” instead of right now? Have you ever told a relative you’re writing a book and the response was something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s cute”?

We need to spread the word that there are a lot of amazing teen writers out there who can become teen authors if they are only given support. So, in hopes of supporting and motivating young writers, I’d like to explain a bit about what starting my first novel was like and share a few fun sites for writers of all experience levels.

So usually teachers point new writers to technical writing sites about “the craft,” which explain all the rules of story writing, like “show don’t tell,” and how to form a story arc. All this stuff is helpful and nice, but it can be enough to scare away novel newbies. So, instead, here are some sites that were super helpful for my first noveling experience (fun and not-so-scary ones!):

  1. Seventh Sanctum

If you’re ever at a loss for what to write about, this site is full of random story idea generators. Even when not completely helpful, they’re always 100% entertaining. It even has a quick character name generator for those pesky character names you can never get just right.

I already had novel ideas stored away, but strangely enough, I actually chose to write my first novel on a whim. I heard about a novel contest my library was hosting to connect with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an international challenge to write a novel in 30 days. Honestly, I think what convinced me in the end was the pizza that  my library would provide

Seriously though, NaNo novels have become my life. One of the biggest problems writers face is not writing. Even one day away from writing can bring a novel to a halt. Giving myself a 30-day deadline keeps me accountable. This brings us to one of my favorite sites:

  1. NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program (YWP)

The great thing about YWP is that it’s for kids and teens writing NaNo novels. You get to choose your word goal for the month, and kids as young as kindergartners have participated. So we have no excuse, right?

Although YWP is pretty much the best thing that has ever happened to my writing, I’ve definitely had times during the 30 days when I’m just not feeling it. So:

  1. Written? Kitten!

This site shows you a picture of a kitten (or puppy or bunny) every time you write a certain amount of words! What better reward for writing is there? During NaNo where word count is king (write first, edit later!), this site is great motivation. On the flip side, if you need an adrenaline-inducing motivation instead, Write Or Die will slowly delete what you have written if you pause too long (okay, that one’s scary).

Even if you’re just thinking about writing a novel, check out those fun resources. Writing really is meant to be fun! And if you’re up for a challenge, try NaNo noveling with me, come November. You never know what could come of it.


Taken at Arapahoe Library District’s 2014 Author Open House