Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Novel Writing Basics

How does a novel begin? After I’ve decided my novel premise, I invite a cast of characters onto the stage and watch them interact with each other. Careful observation and close listening reveals the hook. The protagonist has a goal, and over the course of the novel, the antagonist tries to counterattack. In the early stages of the novel, an outline is essential to keep track of who’s doing what to whom, when, and why. Have I created a strong protagonist with risks and stakes, and one that I’d want to spend at least one year of my life getting to know? Writing a novel is akin to training and running a marathon. Short story writing is closer to speed walking or sprinting.

What must my novel contain to keep readers interested? I use a novel notebook with yellow tabbed dividers to store pictures from magazines, newspapers, and research. I keep it nearby or certain sections whenever I’m writing first or second drafts. Novel writing is methodical, but if the writing is sloppy, readers might walk away from the finished product.
I pace myself as I write so that I don’t suffer burnout or become discouraged.

Imagine a circus ringleader who has to keep an audience engaged while keeping watch on two adjacent rings. An aspiring novelist volunteers at the onset of the creative work for this unpaid job that’s not without its own danger. A book that has weak action, events that unfold too fast or too slow, and no drama or tension is a disaster. Novelists have to juggle characters, setting, dialogue, and point of view without revealing heavy-handed techniques or imitative styles.

Why is novel writing lonely? Writing is a solitary occupation, but it needn’t be isolated. I believe that writing workshops are essential for every aspiring and established scribe’s sanity. Ideas don’t happen in a vacuum, and neither does writing and revision. I need a committed, intelligent, and focused community to keep me in check over the months and perhaps years it takes to write a novel. All writing groups aren’t created equal. The group I founded uses the CORE Method™: Constructive, Organized, and Realistic Evaluation. Setting out to accomplish the herculean task of writing a novel is exciting, painful, and frightening without expecting harsh feedback.

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a writing workshop or trusted first readers to help shape a publishable novel. Artists need a nurturing environment during the latter stages of a work’s evolution. It is in the workshop that writers are accountable to each other with word counts, but it is best not to submit until both the author and pages are ready for constructive feedback and public viewing.

If the creative work is well received and becomes a bestseller, kudos to the writer. Few writers’ first thoughts are that they’re writing a bestseller. I believe we all set out to create three-dimensional characters in vivid worlds both familiar and foreign with identifiable traits, reasonable goals, and a payoff at novel’s end. Invisible contracts exist between authors and potential readers. Tell me story, but not just any story. I want it to keep me awake at night, help me forget my troubles, educate, and leave me wanting more. Each writer has the unenviable task of creating magic on the page.

1 comment:

Don said...

I tend to agree with everything said. Writing a novel shouldn't become a forced or rushed act either. The thoughts and actions of a character or story should flow just as well as the mentality of the writers themselves.