How to Write a Novel in Three Days


I wanted to post something last week. I had intended to finish a piece on the mythos of The Morrigan, but then my machine broke and died an agonizing sputtering death, and I was left without anything to write on. I had to dug out an ancient HP laptop–it used to have Vista but I replaced it with Ubuntu when I couldn’t take the soul-sucking agitation anymore–and it’s so decrepit, it won’t even recognize its own battery. I have to keep it plugged in if I hope to do any work.  And don’t get me started on how hot it gets after only a few minutes of typing. You need welding gloves otherwise you’ll end up with scorched palms.

That was last week. The good news is, I’ve got my iMac back and it’s now working fine, sporting a brand new hard drive. I still have to finish last week’s post though, and complete revision on The Morrigan and search for a day job to finance everything, but in the meantime I found this article. I read it a long while ago and it still holds true.

Michael Moorcock was one of my favorite sword-and-sorcery authors as a kid. He is part of that elite group of authors who helped me survive my youth. Truth be told, he remains a favorite of mine. One of his most popular creations is Elric of Melniboné, an albino warrior king who wields a soul-eating sword called Stormbringer. You should really read this. Elric is the definitive anti-hero.

From the article:

  • This article deals with writing fast. Really fast. It shows you how to write a book in three days. Though I don’t necessarily agree with that, the advice of how you prepare for something like that is valuable. It’s good advice and it comes from a master, so I’d pay attention. You can take this and apply it to however long it takes you to write your own book. You can apply it to your own process, even mix things up and experiment. Preparation is key here, as is the formula used. It makes sense. It just makes wonderful sense.

  • Model the basic plot on the Maltese Falcon (or the Holy Grail — the Quest theme, basically). In the Falcon, a lot of people are after the same thing, the Black Bird. In the Mort D’Arthur, again a lot of people are after the same thing, the Holy Grail. It’s the same formula for westerns, too. Everyone’s after the same thing. The gold of El Dorado. Whatever.

  • The formula depends on the sense of a human being up against superhuman force — politics, Big Business, supernatural evil, &c. The hero is fallible, and doesn’t want to be mixed up with the forces. He’s always about to walk out when something grabs him and involves him on a personal level.

  • Prepare a complete structure. Not a plot, exactly, but a structure where the demands were clear. Know what narrative problems you have to solve at every point. Write solutions at white heat, through inspiration: really, it can just be looking around the room, looking at ordinary objects, and turning them into what you need. A mirror can become a mirror that absorbs the souls of the damned.

  • Prepare a list of images that are purely fantastic, deliberate paradoxes say, that fit within the sort of thing you’re writing. The City of Screaming Statues, things like that. You just write a list of them so you’ve got them there when you need them. Again, they have to cohere, have the right resonances, one with the other.


Divide your total 60,000 words into four sections, 15,000 words apiece. Divide each into six chapters. You can scale this up or down as you like, of course, but you’ll need more days — and stamina — for longer books, and keep chapters at 2.5k max. In section one the hero will say, “There’s no way I can save the world in six days unless I start by…” Getting the first object of power, or reaching the mystic place, or finding the right sidekick, or whatever. That gives you an immediate goal, and an immediate time element, as well as an overriding time demand. With each section divided into six chapters, each chapter must then contain something which will move the action forward and contribute to that immediate goal.

And if like me, you’re a slow writer who not only wants to finish the damn book, but also get better at the craft, here are some more general rules from Moorcock:

  • My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from, Bunyan to Byatt.

  • Find an author you admire (mine was Conrad) and copy their plots and characters in order to tell your own story, just as people learn to draw and paint by copying the masters.

  • Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel.

  • If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophising. This helps retain dramatic tension.

  • Carrot and stick – have protagonists pursued (by an obsession or a villain) and pursuing (idea, object, person, mystery).

  • Ignore all rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say!

You can read the rest of the article here: How to Write a Novel in Three Days.



Psst! Do you recognize the artist? Yep, it’s Brom.

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