How to write a novel…

For my first novel, and for the longer of the short stories, I generally began working with one or more ideas and developed them as I went along, rather than plotting out the whole thing right from the start. I’ve found that this works well for me. It’s often been said that there are only a limited number of possible storylines (the number seven comes to mind, though this doesn’t seem quite enough). If this is the case, then any ‘story-boarding’ I might devise for a book couldn’t be truly original, just a variation on one of these. I find this idea quite demoralising – how can you come up with an original idea? Then there’s the danger of the pursuit of originality causing you to make your plots ever more incredible and, therefore, lacking in credibility (which seems to happen in many long-running television series). To me, what’s really important, what makes a book original, is not the bald outline of the story – what happens, when, and to which characters – but what you put into it: how you describe the events, characters, emotions, thought-processes, etc. And putting the story across in an interesting way too, perhaps being oblique; allowing the reader to work out events for themselves, rather than being too clear. Done well, that can really make a book. And the language is critical too. People tend to draw a distinction between poetry and prose, but prose can be poetic, can flow and be beautiful in the pure sounds of the words heard in the mind or spoken out loud; beautiful like music, before the meaning of the words are even considered. Summarising the plot of a novel, stripping it down to a series of events, strips the magic out of it.
Rather than building the skeletal structure of a storyline, complete from the start, that can then be decorated and filled in, I tend to create a few inter-linked ideas and build out from them. I work on the plot as I go along, allowing it to develop naturally. I suspect this is much more interesting for the writer – the process of writing becomes almost like reading, because, like a reader, you don’t yet know what’s going to happen – so perhaps I’m just being selfish.
I’m following this process again for the second book. I started with a single idea; a snapshot of a character (a new character) at a moment in time – an idyllic moment; an idyllic lifestyle in an idyllic location. I’ve described this scenario, followed the character through a short period of their ideal lifestyle. But of course, nothing is really ideal – nothing is perfect – and so I’ve started to add a few cracks; suggestions that all is not quite as it seems. I think that my new character’s most prominent, most important personality trait is going to be a lack of realism. We shall see…

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About literarylad

Graham Wright is an author whose first novel, Single Point Perspective, is set in and around the city of Manchester, where he lived and worked for more than fifteen years. It's a dramatic piece of literary fiction that is easy to read, imaginative, serious and thoughtful, but with a sense of humour. Graham now lives in South Wales, and is busy writing his second novel.
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2 Responses to How to write a novel…

  1. L. M. Webb says:

    I can relate to allowing the plot to develop naturally and a writing process akin to reading. With four out of five of the stories in my book I had no clear idea of how the story would end until I got to at least halfway through. I’d like to be more disciplined and get into the habit of outlining a basic structure before I start, but not knowing what’s going to happen in the end until I get to writing that part is fun in a way.

    • literarylad says:

      I like that way of working. I find that ideas occur to me as I’m writing; ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of if I’d sat down and devised a plot before starting to write. It can result in a story that is less structured, but it doesn’t have to, particularly if you’re disciplined enough to go back and edit ruthlessly as the plot develops.

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