You have an idea for a novel, and you’re eager to get words on the page. That’s really great, but before you do start writing, consider the following – I suggest that what you have is just the germ of an idea and that you need to work out a few things before you start putting words on the page:

1] What’s your big overall idea? Ideally, your idea should consist of the four major elements of story:

    i] Theme – the central idea that permeates and guides your novel – eg: love, good vs evil, coming of age, war is bad etc. Don’t worry too much about this as this point, but having an idea of what you want your work to illustrate will help towards you knowing what you can and can’t include.

    ii] Characters – the ‘who’ of your novel. Who will be the main character [ie: the protagonist], who or what opposes the protagonist [ie: the antagonist], and what other important characters are in this story?  Think about this for a while, because the first character you think of as protagonist may not be the best one for your book.

    iii] Plot – the ‘what’ – what will happen in this story? You don’t have to plan the whole book out at this stage, but just have a general idea about what you want to happen from go to whoa.

Michael York and Leonard Whiting in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968) [Photo: IMBd]

iv] Setting – the ‘where’ and the ‘when.’ An identical story idea set in 13th Century France will be very different to the same idea set in 21st Century outback Australia. Consider, for example, the contrast between Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film version of the same play. Identical characters, identical dialogue, but one set in the medieval city of Verona, the other set in the modern-day city of Verona Beach. Both are equally wonderful interpretations of Shakespeare’s play, but how different are they?! So think about this carefully – imagine your story in different places and eras. Which will give you the best environment in which to say what you want to say.  

Dash Mihok and Harold Perrineau in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) [Photo: IMBd]

 3] What sort of story are you writing? Does it fit into a particular genre, does it cross genres, is it experimental, literary? While some novels don’t fit into any particular genre, others – such as pure romance or scifi – do, and you would be wise to know the requirements for such genres and sub-genres if that’s what you’d like to write. You need to know the expectations of the genre, even if you decide to then go against those expectations.

4] Are you writing for adults, children or young adults? If for children, what particular age group? If you are writing for children or young adults, please check what is currently being published for these age groups. By this, I don’t mean that you should jump on the bandwagon and write a unicorn book if unicorn books are currently popular – by the time you’ve written and published your unicorn book, it’s very likely the trend will have passed. What I mean here is that the complexity of ideas in these books changes over time, and what was considered a book suitable for 12 year-olds in the 1950s will probably not be considered complex enough now.

5] In whose point of view [also known as perspective] will you write? Through whose eyes will we ‘see’ the story develop? I’ll go into details on point of view in other posts, but for now just consider these possibilities: First person p.o.v. uses ‘I’ and ‘we’, where the reader sees everything only through this person’s eyes. First person p.o.v is used, for example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: 

‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticising anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that.’

  Second person p.o.v. uses ‘you’. Whilst not very common, this p.o.v. brings the reader into the story, and creates the impression of a dialogue between the narrator and reader. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin’s science fantasy novel and winner of the 2016 Hugo Award for best novel, is written in the 2nd person p.o.v.:

‘You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead. You’re an orogene who’s been living in the little town of Tirimo for ten years. Only three people here know what you are, and two of them you gave birth to. Well. One left who knows, now. For the past ten years you’ve lived as ordinary a life as possible. You came to Tirimo from elsewhere; the townsfolk didn’t really care where or why. Since you were obviously well educated, you became a teacher at the local crèche for children aged ten to thirteen.’

  Third person p.o.v. uses ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ and ‘they’, and is the perspective of an outsider looking at the action. It is the point of view most commonly used, eg: 

‘The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself. He had begun the evening by enjoying himself: he had enjoyed reading the goodbye cards, and receiving the hugs from several not entirely unattractive young ladies of his acquaintance; he had enjoyed the warnings about the evils and dangers of London, and the gift of the white umbrella with the map of the London Underground on it that his friends had chipped in money to buy … [from Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman]

  You might want to argue that you simply want to start, and see where it leads you. There’s nothing wrong with this, but there’s a big difference between letting a story develop as you get to know your characters and as new ideas come to you, to starting out with no real idea where you’re going and just hoping you’ll get to the end in good time. Developing your germ of an idea into a novel length story will require you to work with many elements, so it’s worth spending some time thinking about the different possibilities, because every decision you make about each element will affect the others. For example, changing your protagonist will affect his or her actions [because they’re now different people], which will affect the plot, which may or may not affect the theme, and so on. Thinking about these things is just as creative a process as putting words on a page, and it is, in fact, beginning your first draft. So happy thinking, and happy writing! #writingtip  #novel  #WritingPromp

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