- By Harry Bingham
- Published 08/18/2011
Most new writers will find constructing a novel a daunting task – and if you’re not daunted, then you probably don’t have a realistic idea of what’s involved. Here’s a quick guide to the key issues. 1. Get the structure right That means plotting. You need to have a protagonist (the hero or heroine). You need to give that character a clear objective. You need to make sure that their objective starts to make itself felt as early as possible – and that almost certainly means chapter 1. You also need to make sure that every chapter creates movement. In other words, if you look at the position of your hero in relation to their key objective at the start of the chapter, that relationship MUST have changed by the end of the chapter. 2. Know your characters The key issue with characterisation is knowing your characters well enough to tell their story. Most writers start out knowing something about who they’re writing about – but not nearly enough. You MUST know your characters as well as you know your best friend before you start writing. 3. Give your characters some inner life Far too many writers talk about their characters as though they’re seeing them on film … which is fine in a way (because you’ll get some lovely external descriptions) but fiction is about finding inner life. So make sure that you remember to talk about your characters thoughts, feelings, sensations and memories. That’s true even if you’re writing action / adventure: after all, the thrill of reading James Bond books is feeling what it’s like to BE James Bond. That’s something no film can offer. 4. Take care with your writing style
Yes, yes, we know. You’ve got some amazing characters a
nd a brilliant story to tell … and you haven’t worried so much about your writing. But you have to care! If you write a wonderful story in clumsy, badly phrased sentences, readers will quickly give up. So make sure to use the minimum number of words necessary. Say what you have to say in a precise way. Avoid cliche. Try to search for the telling detail. 5. Show don’t tell If you know what that means – then do it. If you don’t, well – it’s high time you did. Telling the reader something is an efficient way to convey facts, but it’s also bland and offputting. So don’t say, ‘John was an angry, violent man’. Make sure that you have a scene where we feel the volcano building, then exploding in anger and violence. That’ll be so much more powerful for the reader. The essence of the issue is that you need to keep your book involved in the drama of the present moment. 6. Place your camera in the right spot Who’s your narrator? Do you want to let tell the story in the first person (‘I did this, I said that’) or the third person (‘She did this, he said that.’)? How many narrators are you going to have? And can you switch the narrative viewpoint in the middle of a scene or chapter? These are huge issues and if you feel insecure about them you must get further advice before proceeding with your novel. 7. Get help! Writing is hard. There’s no reason to make yourself go it alone. You should certainly intensify your internet research – browse the net for whichever of the above topics strikes you as most relevant to your work.
But don’t stop at using the internet’s resources. The net can take you only so far. Either take an online writing course or get mentoring – or better still get some professional feedback on your work. You’ll learn masses. Your work will certainly develop. And you should have fun too. Happy writing!