Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writing a Fiction Novel

I remember back in grade school my teacher telling our class we were going to eat an elephant. I was very perplexed that she seemed so serious about it and began asking us how we would go about eating an elephant. After all, elephants are huge, and I could barely finish a sandwich and chips in one sitting. How were we going to eat this elephant she was talking about?

Of course, you know the answer: One bite at a time! Writing a fictional novel is much the same way. Beginning writers (and I suspect some of us experienced writers, too) may balk at the idea of tackling such a project. Yet writing is such a creative outlet that gives us an opportunity to express ideas and emotions that we are willing to 'eat the elephant' anyway.

I have heard new writers say, from time to time, that they just don't know where to begin in writing a novel, so I've put together a quick guide to creating a fictional story. I will cover more information on this topic in later posts, but this where I usually start.

1. Choose and research your topic. Fictional writing lends itself to a myriad of topics. When preparing to write your story, gather as much information as you can about subjects you are passionate about. Reflect on your reading tastes to help in determining what type of book you might write and what age group you will write for.

2. Outline your plot on a piece of paper. The plot consists of the major events that will take place during your story. Organizing these events will give your story direction. Note the physical time and place of your story on the outline. Writing out the plot, along with the theme or meaning behind the novel, will give you something to refer back to later and help keep your story on track.

3. Characters can make or break a novel. Weak or uninteresting characters, or characters that don't behave and speak like real people, can easily be avoided with careful planning. Think about what drives the individuals in your story. What are their origins? What did they experience during their childhood? What are their likes and dislikes? What conflicts and struggles do they face? Getting to know your characters will help you to identify with them and help you to know how they should react and speak. Profile them and pin their profiles up on a pegboard alongside your outline so you can easily refer back to your notes. (Note: Many times in place of the pegboard, I organize my notes and story drafts into a zipper binder. I also find it helpful to collect pictures of real people who look similar to my characters. It helps me to not lose sight of the fact that my characters are 'real people' in my story, and that they must behave like real people at all times.)

4. Decide if you will write your novel from one character's point of view, or from an all-knowing author point of view. Each style has benefits and drawbacks. For instance, writing from a character's point of view (known as writing in first person) gives you the opportunity to show your character's thoughts and emotions from their own unique perspective. However, be aware that with this style of writing you cannot reveal anything that the main character doesn't know or see. You can switch to a sub-character's point of view in the course of the story to show the reader things they could not otherwise know, but be careful. This can become confusing to the reader if not done well.

Alternately, you can show the story line from an author's point of view, or third person. This gives you the freedom to show how the story relates to many characters at once, and allows the reader to see things happening that the main character doesn't necessarily know about.

No matter which view point you choose, be sure to stick with it through your story.

5. Begin writing the first draft of your story. Refer back to your plot and character profiles, and begin writing out the scenes that will move the novel. Try to devote a little time to writing each day, even if it is only fifteen minutes. Set reasonable goals to keep you motivated. I personally try not to look back over what I've written until I'm done with the first draft. Penning the first draft is a difficult step, one that you should tackle without the distraction of editing and constant re-reading.

As I said, this is usually how I begin writing a novel. Knowing that everyone writes and organizes thoughts differently, I would encourage beginning writers to use this guide as they discover their own unique way of developing plot, characters and point of view.

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