Novels are a funny thing.
Just like children, they require nourishment, attention, and time. You can create guidelines and standards for them, but often, no matter how diligent you are, they will end up doing their own thing once they mature a little.
Case in point: Originally, The Witches of Dark Root was about four sisters returning to their small town to take care of their ill mother. No Magic. No witchiness. Just normal life stuff many people deal with. This wasn't supposed to be a paranormal book (let alone a series!) but as I was writing "Maggie" I felt the 'call of magick' come from her. Then, absently, I scribbled the words: "If I were a real witch..." into my notes and just like that, everything changed. It was my epiphany.
Since I had studied the occult, world religion, and the paranormal my entire life, it was an easy transition for the novel, but not one I saw coming. But it 'felt' right. I threw away my notes and just wrote from pure intuition then. It was a happy accident and it taught me to listen to my inner self more after the experience. She seems to know what she is doing far more than I do.
So, first thing about novel writing: Trust yourself.
Second thing: Be yourself.
I didn't try and follow genre norms. I didn't even try to fit my stuff into a genre. I just wrote what came to my heart and mind. I allowed myself plenty of time each day to daydream about Maggie and her family, then let myself dive into each scene. When I was stuck, I just wrote a sentence, any sentence, and it usually started to flow again. But I never tried to be anyone other than myself. I studied the rules, and broke quite a few of them, but it was all me.
And that is the entire point of this post: In my opinion, the most important quality a writer possesses is his/her individuality. The world isn't searching for another King, or Martin or Austin. These people already exist. We want YOU.
We read to be entertained, but we also read because it makes us feel less alone in the world. When you've written something truthful, honest, or revealing, it creates an intimate bridge with your reader. For a moment, you two are one. Express your truth and you express a universal truth - sometimes the uncomfortable, ugly truths we all pretend don't exist.
Dig deep for these truths. Be honest. Let yourself be exposed.
All fine and well, you say. But how? How do we get to the point of honesty?
This is the tough part. And the easy part.
Dragons like to hoard their treasure under layers of thick skin and scales. We writers do the same. We're as battle-scarred as anyone, maybe more so, which is why we turn to writing rather than talking.
Unbury that treasure. Shine it up. Write what you know but be creative with it. Dig into your memories and scavenge those emotions that come up. Relive the situations that caused you to feel love, joy, compassion, hurt, betrayal, envy, even hate. (Yes, even hate!)
Draw on those experiences to create authenticity in your writing. When we feel that one other person in the universe understands us (even if that person is an author) we don't feel alone anymore. Be that one person that understands.
How do you get started?
Practice by writing about a 'scene' from your day, week, month etc. It doesn't have be exciting. Simple is good. Maybe reflect on an hour during lunch break where you sat under a tree and watched your coworkers mill in and out of the office. How do they look? How fast are they walking? What are they wearing? What are they dreaming about? Who are they missing?
Then, describe how the scene makes YOU feel. Does it cause you to become anxious? Do you feel like a slacker for not working through lunch? Do you think Maya is a kiss up for doing so? Write about the feelings your scene brings up and be as honest as you can. Emotions aren't bad and when we shine a light on them they tend to diminish.
Be real and authentic in your writing. Don't hold use big words unless they feel natural. Be you. (I can't say that enough).
After you've written out scenes from your life for a few months, try to do it from a different perspective. Maybe have Maya be the one sitting under the tree. Or maybe describe what is going through her head as she's rushing to see the boss again.
Or...and this is always fun...write the same scene from a distance. Its still YOU sitting under the tree, but describe it as a stranger might. What (honest) things might they deduct from you? How do they see you? How do you 'feel' to them?
Do this over and over. Be creative with those real scenes, and soon, you'll be making up scenes that are just as authentic.
This is how I developed my style and voice. Another happy accident I discovered that changed the trajectory of my writing career.
Each writer is a voice in an endless sea, and for your voice to be heard above all the other sea horsiest and squids, it needs to be unique. (is squids plural? Dunno. Not gonna look it up)
And that uniqueness only comes from within YOU.