Tuesday, 21 August 2012

How to write a novel: Part one

OK, so that's probably not the most accurate title for this post, because there is no one way to write a novel. But this is how I do it, so if you're still interested, read on. Oh, I should also say that the actual writing of a novel isn't covered in this post, this is all about the planning, but if you're still interested, here's how to do it...

  1. Have an idea. Sometimes this is easier said than done. It is especially difficult when sitting staring at a blank screen, telling yourself that you have to have a really good idea, right now. Take the pressure off by having really good ideas all the time instead. And, importantly, write them down so that you can come back to them when you need them.
  2. Ask yourself questions. If your inspiration is a location, then who lives there. If your inspiration is a person, then where do they live? Are they in trouble? How did they get there? How will they get out of it? I love to do this stage the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. I find that when I'm writing on paper, my brain is always a step ahead of my hand, so by the time I've finished writing the question, I know the answer, or I at least know which question needs asking next. 
  3. Find out who your friends are. Take all the information you have about your characters (from your scribbles from #2), and draw up profiles. Who are they? What makes them tick? What's brought them together, and what's going to keep them apart. Ask more questions. Really get to know your characters inside out. 
  4. Work out what they're up to. By this stage, a beginning and a middle may be making themselves known. Play around with different ideas thrown up by #2 and #3. How much detail you put in here really depends on how you like to work. Writers fall into two camps: plotters and pantsers (though of course there are many shades of grey in between). Plotters plan what they are going to write, and then write it. Pantsers start writing and see where it takes them. I'm a plotter, but only up to a point. When I start on chapter one, I'll have a pretty structured plan for the first third of the book, and know the major milestones for the middle and the end. But I don't plot these in detail at the start, instead I have a couple of big plotting sessions along the way.
  5. Do your researchOK, so this isn't really #5. It's a little bit of points 1-4, as it needs to be done all the way through. Research can be lots of things. It can be sitting with your eyes shut, glass of wine in hand, thinking about why your character reacts in the way they do; it can be reading historical manuscripts at the British Library; and it can be pretty much everything in between. The point is, you have to make your story believable, which means knowing the ins and outs of every character, every decision, every location, and every historical event. That's not to say that you need to include all this information in your book - in fact you really probably shouldn't - and it's not to say that you can't monkey with the facts a little, if it's what your story really needs. But if you're winging it, then something may ring hollow about your story. 
So there we are. Once all this is done, you just need a notepad and paper or a computer, and a few short, easy months later, you will have written a novel. Simples. Honest... Meet you back here for Part 2!


How to write a novel: Part two
How to write a novel: Part three

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