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How to write a novel

I’ve researched different writers about the process of writing a novel, and while they tend to give different perspectives, they also show two things in common: (1) the characters must appear to be flesh-and-blood real to the reader, and (2) there must be a reasonable structure to the novel. Since characterization requires a details discussion by and of itself, let me first talk about structure.

It may be obvious to you if I say that a good novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What is less obvious is what do we expect to happen in those three major sections? The beginning of the novel has to do some highly important tasks. It must create an interesting beginning where the character is faced with a significant problem. This character has a goal of some sort—perhaps avoiding getting caught, trying to solve a crime, wanting something someone else has, trying to prevent someone from taking what she has, etc. As that character strives to attain that goal, she begins to run into an obstacle. This beginning part of the novel has to do a good job in making the problem real and in making you either want the character to succeed or (if the character is a villain) to be deeply interested in learning how the character will eventually be caught.

The middle part of the novel now gets into the failed attempts of the main character to attain her goal or solve her problem. When she tries one thing, something worse happens. When she tries another, something even more challenging happens. She finally comes to what some authors refer to either a “dark moment” or “climax” when things look their darkest and something has to change. She needs to solve that problem or attain that goal somehow. But she might do this by deciding that she doesn’t want that goal or doesn’t want that problem solved. It’s not an instantaneous revelation where she wakes up and decides this. Circumstances evolve that convince her to make a change in direction.

All the while, the character is changing his perspective. The end of the novel shows how the character has changed and how a new course of action is now possible. I like to think of this as the “resolution” of the novel. While some loose things have to be tidied up, the character doesn’t necessarily have a picture-perfect happy ending. In fact, you, as a novelist, don’t want to give her a picture-perfect ending. But at least give her hope. I’ve done this in my novel All Parts Together where my main character, Jessica, is devastated because she’s lost the true love of her life, her book won’t be published, her hero (Abraham Lincoln) was assassinated, and there doesn’t seem to be much in life that will interest her. But there’s a knock on door. A lady wants to invited her to an important meeting. This will mark a new departure in Jessica’s life, and that departure will be fully revealed in my third novel in the series.

Character development, in my opinion, is as important as plot development. When we think of the great novels of the past that we’ve read, we think of the characters. For instance, anyone who has ever read Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is so familiar with Scarlet O’Hara she has become a real person. You experience her foolish pain in trying to capture Ashley Wilkes’ heart only to find her true love, Rhett Butler, who ultimately leaves her. Creating a character is not simply giving that character a name and adding a few physical descriptions. You need to get into that person’s heart and soul and look through the eyes of that person and experience the things they experience. You need to know this person’s background and ambitions so well that you could predict how they would react in particular situations. This happened with Susan Stratford, a character is my novel, An Innocent Murdered. Susan  is a former nun but lately she’s been bothered by the fact she’s never had a sexual experience in her 46 years of existence and tells her friend Detective Matt Gunnison of her predicament:


"I hope God forgives me for saying this, but as I said, I never had a man before. I know the Catholic Church says it’s a grievous sin unless you’re married, but I don’t see how it could be in my circumstance.”

 SometimesI have to myself as being an evil character, such as a President of the U.S. whose sympathies lie with the Russians and whose mission is to become the ruler of the world—as in my futuristic novel, Advent. Here, his Secretary of State, Ben Levin, gives him some disturbing news:

 “Mr. President?” It was Levin. His voice was  harsh, raspy.

“Ben, can you tell me what the hell is going on? Why didn’t you tell me about the change in plans?”

“Frankly, I learned about a new timetable for the arrival of the material. I thought it’d be too risky to contact you about it, but I did alert Broznov about it. I suspect he informed Volkonich who, in turn, should have alerted al-Fassad about the change in plans.”

Hell! If that was the case, why didn’t Volkonich bother to let him know? Why was he kept toally in the dark?”

“Did you pull off your little ruse?” He hoped Levin would interpret this to mean the cleverly planned deception with the gas canisters.

In that novel, I show the duplicity of the President being amiable to the outside world yet deceitful in his heart. To create him successfully, I had to BE that president as I wrote my novel to make him totally credible. This is a challenge, but it’s worth it, believe me!

Filed under Adven All Parts Together An Innocent Murdered Tom Mach characters novel plot writers writing a novel how to write a novel