I’m having trouble writing my novel. Could you please tell me how to write a novel?
I’m terribly sorry to hear about your troubles, although I’ll say based on the scores of writers I know, they’re not “novel” troubles at all! Writing a book is no easy task, nor is it prescriptive or formulaic. The best I may hope to offer is the way in which I craft my own book, which may or may not be novel in its own right (write?). See below.
Heaven help me, I can't keep up a whole blog post in my best "Dear Abby" voice, despite my best attempts to keep this space lively. But, a real John did really ask me about novel writing, so I thought, if John wants to know, maybe at least two or three other people have the same question.
"How do you compose a novel?"
Actually, John asked something much more eloquent, but I'm going to answer a question that is both simple and very hard: what's the actual process of putting the novel together?
I'll start by answering for myself, and to do so, I first need to situate myself on this little soapbox over here...
I dislike the concepts of "plotters" versus "pantsers," or the supposed unifier of "plantsers." It makes us writers sound like we are divided by some weird approach that makes no sense on either side, and then there is the preachy friend in the middle going, "c'mom everybody, can't we all just get along?" But, if I had to pick an approach, I am the creepy friend in the middle.
Because... ultimately, I do both. I pants and I plot, but I'd argue that you can't have a book without a plan. A flawlessly executed story, one that won't suffer from plot holes, needs an outline. But, that outline doesn't need to look like it did in grade school. It doesn't need to have Roman numerals and English letters and dots and dashes and animal figurines and the whole nine yards. It can simply be a plan, however that works for you.
So, how do I novel? Here's how. And before I tell you, I'll say this. Fred knows how I novel and he has this to say about it:
"I have no idea how you do it. It would never work for me."
Keep that in mind. We're all different, and this blog is one opinion in a sea of many.
I start with the concept, and I write. Maybe it's the opening scene, maybe it's a scene in the middle of the book, or maybe it's the grand finale. I simply write to explore and decide: do I like the feel of this?
If yes, I feel out the entire plot of the story. This is a general plot, but I cannot move forward at this point unless I know at least in broad strokes the beginning, middle, and the end. Note this down in a separate journal - this is where I plan.
Go back to the exploratory writing. Do I like the voice? Is the story sounding right? This is usually the hardest part. I need to find my way into the story by finding the right voice and point of view. Once I have those down, I can proceed forward.
More exploratory writing now, and I move forward by writing scenes out of order. Since I have a general idea of the entire plot, I start to draft whichever scene inspiration calls to mind at that moment. This is a time for the muse, because this is a time that I have the ability to live in this space. It won't all be like this, because writing is hard work. But for now, I draft what comes to mind, and I decide on placement later. These become puzzle pieces, the outline components, and parts of the plan.
Once I have a better sense of the story and I've become more comfortable with it, I've lived with it more, that's when I outline. This is the point at which I figure which details will fill in the story's plot points, how acts I, II, and III will flow, and what the big twist or reveal will be. Anyone that can plot from the start, I'm in awe of you.
I crack into the journal I've started. Along the way, I've been jotting down little ideas, but now's the time to really figure out what puzzle pieces I already have, and where they'll fit into the bigger picture. Scenes get cut here, and that's okay. The book starts to look bookish.
Having some scenes and an outline, now I can write in book-order. Off I go, start to finish.
Or, heck, wherever I feel like filling in, because I now know what I have to write.
Like I said, Fred thinks my process is a hot holy mess.
"How do you write, Fred?"
"Chronologically. First sentence to last."
That makes sense, too.
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