Archive for the ‘How to write a novel’ Category
Here, in no particular order:
5. Your storyline is compelling
You’ve created a sequence of events that progresses logically and purposefully and that culminates in climax. This sequence is called plot. The plot of a short story can (and probably should) involve just one single incident or main conflict. And conflict is clash. A clash of what? A clash of desires. On the other hand, the plot of a novel — even a short novel — should be more complex and involve a series of incidents. This series should progress naturally, yet not predictably, and if your storyline achieves that, you have on that level succeeded in writing a good book.
4. You’ve given the reader something to be curious about
This is what I call a Thread of Apprehension, which is closely connected to the issue of suspense, which in turn is closely connected to the issue of plot. To create such a thread, you feed information gradually to your reader and you build a conflict which will in reason interest your reader. What do I mean by “in reason”? If, for example, your character’s big conflict is what color she should paint her toes and what her friends will think of this, you will not have a conflict of any universal appeal: your characters, thus, being people who are concerned with such things, will not have universal appeal either. When you create a thread of apprehension, ask yourself this: is there any good reason that readers should be interested in this clash? Are the desires and values of my characters important enough to be curious about?
3. Your climax resolves your central conflict
Chekhov’s famous rule — “Never hang a gun on the wall in the first act if you don’t intend to have it go off in the third” — compendiates this principle perfectly. (The breach of that rule, incidentally, is known as a “red herring.”) If you create a lot of genuinely interesting conflict in your story and yet can’t bring the conflict together in one culminating scene, your story will fail. One piece of very helpful practical advice a screenwriter once gave me: devise your climax first in your mind and then plot backwards from that, away from the climax, always asking yourself along the way: what sequence of events are necessary to bring my characters to this point?
2. Your characters are remarkable
Readers are interested in exceptional people. What is exceptional? Out-of-the-ordinary and accomplished in some way. People who through their own choices and decisions and effort of will have risen above the average — even villains. Two-dimensional characters, uninteresting characters, characters with no depth, or characters whose motivations are unclear or unbelievable — they bore us. Upon the other hand, characters who are in some way remarkable — and realistically so — grab readers and make readers want to know what happens to them. To create characters with depth, however, the writer of course must also possess a certain amount of depth.
1. You know why your novel was written
Too often, we read novels written by writers who think that a novel is a journal. Or a memoir. Or a chronicle. A novel is not any of these things. You can in your novel write about mountain climbing or marlin fishing or marijuana smoking or your youth, provided you show us in the work why there’s a reason we should be interested in these things. That reason is called theme. Theme is the meaning that the events of your story add up to.
Here’s how you create a character:
Here’s how you develop your character:
liked strong men with brooding features and complicated brains.
Here’s how you create a new character:
She made Michael’s acquaintance
Here’s how you create a setting:
in a quiet diner one warm and windswept autumn evening, along the southern outskirts of Tucson.
Here’s how you develop your new character:
He was sitting alone at the counter, two stools down from Julia, and he didn’t seem to notice her but stared deeply into his coffee cup. He appeared distracted, his brows knitted, his forehead thoughtful and grave —
Here’s how you further develop your initial character:
a fact Julia specifically noticed, much in the way that (tilting her head in the mahogany light) she noticed the open book beneath his forearm.
Here’s how you introduce foreshadowing, a new paragraph, and also your theme (which in this abbreviated example is beauty and permanence and the artistic temperament):
On this forearm, stamped over a web of wormy veins, was a tattoo the likes of which she’d never seen: it was of a marble sculpture — a sculpture depicting a nude woman — perfectly rendered and perfectly unambiguous. Yet next to it, hovering to the left of the sculpture’s head and entirely ambiguous, was a small white birthmark, or perhaps a scar, in the shape of jigsaw-puzzle piece.
Here’s how you add tension and build your plot:
The man’s fingers were long, beautiful, compelling fingers, which moved in a strange and almost disembodied way across the countertop. Julia found herself half-transfixed by them, and was appalled to discover herself next thinking of those fingers upon her body. That thought, however, was interrupted when the man lifted his arm and the book slapped shut — and she then saw the drawing on the back cover. She nearly gasped.
Here’s how you introduce dialogue:
“Where did that come from?” she said. Her voice was barely a whisper.
Here’s how you intensify the sense of mystery and reinforce your theme:
He looked at her, but he didn’t speak. At that moment, the waitress came to fill his water glass, but spilled a little on his forearm — and on the perfectly rendered sculpture there. To her surprise, the ink began to run, the sculpture’s face melting away. The puzzle-piece birthmark remained, clarified.
Here’s how you exploit your theme through dialogue:
“It isn’t permanent,” the waitress said.
Here’s how you develop your character through dialogue:
“No,” he said.
Here’s how you charge your situation:
“The book cover,” Julia said. “The drawing … it is the same drawing my brother made for me, when I was a child. I mean, it is identical.”
Here’s how you further charge your situation:
“I know,” he said.
Here’s how you develop your plot through dialogue:
“Where is my brother?” she said.
Here’s how you gradually add information to keep readers interested:
“Your brother is dead.”
Here’s how you develop your initial character through dialogue:
“No,” she whispered.
Here’s how you introduce conflict:
“Yes,” he said. “He killed himself. But he left you something.”
After he spoke these last words, he turned his head away from her and looked toward the window, beyond which, under an indigo sky, a pair of dust devils sprung up among distant sandhills. He watched the dust devils spin themselves out, then turned back to Julia. “It is time,” he said. “Time to murder and create.”
Read Number 1 here.
One of the primary reasons — and it’s a perfectly legitimate reason — that people give me for not finishing their book is that they don’t have time to write.
The good news is that at least half of the writing and plotting process takes place inside the mind, and you can do a great deal of important work when you’re driving, exercising, bathing, lying in bed, walking, gardening, et cetera. That process is called thinking.
Thinking must be approached systematically and with focus (e.g. “What are you going to do now?” “I’m going to think for a while.”)
In writing a story — particularly a long story — you’re presented with innumerable details and innumerable problems all of which you must sort out and solve. Many if not most of these are best done not when you’re sitting at your keyboard or over your manuscript with pen-and-paper, but when you’re alone with your own thoughts.
It may sound formulaic and overly systematic, and it may at first feel as if you’re bleeding the romance out of the writing process, but please hear me on this: writing a story is like working out a puzzle — a puzzle of your own devising — and the sooner you learn to approach it in this way, the sooner you’ll be able to finish your book.
Here, then, is how you create a setting:
One hour before nightfall, on a pink-and-blue evening in the third week of August, 2011 …
Here’s how you create a character:
a solitary man traveling on foot …
Here’s how you introduce a situation:
entered the small, tree-shadowed town of Clifton — an isolated village about which many rumors circulated.
Here’s how you introduce tension:
Several people from their windows and doors eyed the traveler with suspicion …
Here’s how you heighten that tension and begin your plot:
and yet one, a woman upon her doorstep, who had never laid eyes on the traveler before today, felt an icicle skewer her heart the instant she saw him — and saw also the strange and unmistakable key he wore on a chain around his neck.
Here’s how you further develop your character:
The traveler was a man of medium height, lean and lithe, thirty or perhaps thirty-five. He had wheat-colored hair cut high-and-tight, and there was in his posture a certain military mien, an excess of energy which set him apart.
Here’s how you further set your scene:
The day was dying. Wind went warmly about the grass. The village was silent.
Here’s how you introduce foreshadowing:
He passed by a small cinema the lights of which shed a crimson sheen over his hands and face.
Here’s how you introduce a new character, a potential conflict, a new paragraph:
Among those watching him was a strong-looking young man, alone and hatless, who stood half-hidden with the statuary, in the black shadows of the conifer trees. He and the traveler looked in some way alike, yet the man in the shadows was younger, and his face was charged with suffering.
Here’s how you intensify your plot and introduce dialogue:
Quickly the woman left her doorstep and, with a tremor of intent, approached the traveler.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.
Here’s how you develop your main character through dialogue:
“Yes,” he said.
Here’s how you intensify your situation again and at the same time give the reader an idea of your novel’s theme (which in this abbreviated example is: superstition in an insular society):
At last her eyes went to the strange-looking key that he wore around his neck. She’d been avoiding it, but now that her eyes were upon it, she couldn’t look away. The key was very beautiful, entirely real, modern and yet somehow science-fictional, not at all as she’d been told. In its silver glint, she caught a quick reflection of the stone gargoyle perched on the building behind them. Her heart paused and then released a thunderous beat. A rill of sweat slid between her breasts. Unexpectedly, she felt a sexual surge shoot through her.
Here’s how you raise tension through dialogue:
“Time is running short,” she said. “Come with me.”
Here’s how you further develop your plot:
She said no more after that but turned and walked toward the cinema that stood burning with a hellish glow in the August twilight. The traveler followed.
She hadn’t noticed the man watching from the shadows.
But the traveler had recognized him instantly.