It’s National November Writing Month – the month when writers around the world join in a quick-fire effort to complete a story of 50,000 words in just 30 days. I’m marking it this month by re-posting some of the material I’ve published in past years to help writers get to that goal.
I’ve posted in the last week about ways of preparing to write a novel – let’s say a 50,000 word NaNoWriMo entry – and getting it finished in thirty days. It’s do-able. I also think it’s do-able with quality. After all, Jack Kerouac blew On The Road through his typewriter in three weeks, and it’s one of the best novels ever written.
Kerouac showed that, with experience, it’s possible to preserve the freshness of ‘seat-of-the-pants’ writing without losing the structure needed to bring quality to a novel. The secret is blending the immediacy of ‘pantsing’ the words with broad-scale planning. Even Kerouac planned his masterpiece before he sat down.
The way to do this is by starting with the logline, then defining the characters and their arcs – and only then going on to the actual narrative plot. Of course it all interlinks, but that’s the ideal order to plan things, because it helps control the way the components interlink. Today I’m going to explain why, because understanding why is the secret to being able to then write quickly and well.
One of the biggest problems writers often have is that they tend to write as consumers, not creators. Consumers – that is, the readers of a novel, or for that matter the viewers of a movie or TV show – are receiving the material. They receive it as a series of delivered experiences that take them on an emotional journey, one usually associated with the events in the scene. Creating something superficially similar usually repeats that emotional response (this is why fan fiction gets written, incidentally).
The point is that the narrative scene, inevitably, is simply the vehicle for expressing deeper themes and ideas associated with the character arc. If properly done, this is how we get to share the emotional journey, and the problem comes when a writer conceives of a story – first – as a series of scenes, as if receiving them. We all do, of course, we’re conditioned to it, and we get a neat idea as a series of conceptual pictures, maybe, or as a cool scene we want to include. Which is great, and often creative in very original ways. But it’s often viewed from the ‘receiving’ end, which means that the devices and mechanisms that cause the emotional response are often masked by the superficial artifice of the narrative.
The writer has to work from the ‘delivery’ viewpoint – the other end of the chain. Obviously we have to bear in mind how whatever we do will be received; but it’s often a long and complex process to reverse-engineer that emotional response from the receiving point. Better to know how to generate it from the other end, and organise a scene to suit.
And sure, you can include that cool idea or scene…if it fits when it’s looked at from that viewpoint.
How to do it? Try asking these questions:
1. In what way does this scene extend the character arc – meet the need of the character, show (not tell) one of the characteristics you have in mind to deepen the reader experience of that character, and simultaneously move the story along in the intended direction?
2. What emotional response is all this likely to generate in a reader?
3. How does it fit with the suspension of disbelief and consistency of the story?
4. How does it fit with the over-arching plan you made earlier?
More soon on the actual mechanics of how to go about the novel –and how to start cranking out words…and keep cranking them out.
If you want some more writing tips and hints, and a method for pushing your book through, check out my short quick-start manual How to get writing… fast. Available on Kindle.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013 and 2018