Easier said than done, right? Well, to be honest, it should be the easiest part of this journey because it’s fun, exciting, and you know the story you want to tell. But there are three fundamental principles you need to nail down before you begin to write.
Writing a novel sounds harder than it actually is. The self-doubt stems from the books you have read in the past–all those great thrillers that blew your mind. When the twist revealed itself and you were wowed by the fact that you “didn’t see that coming.” But there’s a reason for that. You didn’t see it because you were following a narrative that was specifically written to keep your eyes looking elsewhere. The author wrote it with this intention.
However, if you prepared to read the story with a white board, marker pens and a notepad, you’d have probably figured it all out way before the last page. But that’s not why we read books. We read for the thrill of the author telling us their story and their ending.
It’s a clever dance between reader and writer; one wants to be thrilled, and the other is happy to oblige.
So, where do you start?
Character vs plot
For writers, the age-old question of the chicken and the egg translates to character vs plot. Which comes first? Only you can answer this for your story, I’m afraid.
Some writers think of a plot and sculpt their characters to suit it. They think of a situation and ramp it up to be shocking and worthy of their reader’s attention. Then they turn up the heat and add sub-plots. And lastly, they create a character who is up to the task of resolving the problem. A good example would be in the John Milton series by Mark Dawson.
Other writers do it differently. They have an idea of a great character and write a story to suit. And to keep the reader hooked, they add backstories and histories to create a deeper connection with the reader. Sherlock Homes is a good example for this. He is a great detective and needs particularly complex plots to demonstrate his abilities.
Ultimately, this part is up to you. But ask yourself this question. When you decided that you wanted to write a book, what was the reason? Was it to tell the world a story? Was it to show the world a character you’ve been thinking about? Or was it because all authors are rich and famous and you thought “why not”? I’m betting the last reason has popped into your head a few times.
ShaelinWrites gives an excellent explanation of the two. She also manages to highlight different ways both versions can collide. Check out here video HERE.
Point of View
This is a key point that is very important in telling every story. However, I struggled to find literature on this topic despite trawling the internet.
What POV will you write from?
“I fell down the stairs.” This is the character narrating the story from within the story.
“You fell down the stairs,” is a narrator guiding you as a character through a story. Quite a rare POV. And to be honest, one that I’ve never enjoyed. I always equate this to the dungeon master from Dungeons and Dragons.
Third person limited?
“She fell down the stairs,” is a narrator telling the reader about the lady falling down the stairs, but the narrator also knows what the lady can see, hear, feel. In this POV, the narrator doesn’t have access to what an onlooker is thinking. This is the most common, and one that I prefer to read and write.
In this POV, the story is told through multiple characters, but this is normally done chapter by chapter, or scene by scene.
Third person omnipotent?
“Tracey fell down the stairs and felt her bones breaking. Tom watched with pleasure as she landed with her neck twisted at an angle. “Her life insurance was a gold mine,” he thought.” The narrator is omnipotent and has access to every character’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. This is quite common, but it’s easy to screw up. By jumping between multiple him/her and he/she, the writer and reader can lose track. Also, in an attempt to avoid he/she etc, the writer will name everyone constantly. And that wears thin quickly.
An easy way to think of this is to think about how you would tell someone what happens in a scene from your story. You will notice the tense and POV happen naturally.
But if you want a very technical and analytical explanation of POV, check out Shaelin’s video HERE. She has some excellent videos that helped me countless times. And her passion and knowledge for writing is inspiring.
Planning or “Pantsing”
Some writers will tell you they write by the seat of their pants and never know where the story is going. But those writers tend to have a series of books under their belts, and have written their characters many times. Expereince goes a long way.
As a new writer, it’s not a good idea to follow the words down the rabbit hole on your first manuscript. You are still getting to know your writing style, your characters, their traits, histories, skills etc. And you are unpractised in drafting a full story arc.
There are two types of writer that use pantsing. The first is the experienced novelist who has a library of books out there. The other is that person who tells you “I’ve been working on a book,” but never actually finishes it. And this is because they get lost on the all the possible paths their writing could take them.
For a first manuscript, I would encourage you to spend time in the planning phase. Plan your story from start to finish. I use bullet points to begin with. Then I expand on them. By the time I sit to write the first draft, I know the outline well enough that I can let my fingers do the rest.
Help is out there
Check out Jenna Moreci’s video on outlining HERE. I’ll warn you now, Jenna puts things in a way that cannot be misinterpreted. Her videos are amazing and she never fails to entertain whilst educating.
When you plan your draft, you will need to think about the instigating incident that gets story started. What is so important that it will make the reader want to be involved? How will you build on it and develop your characters as the story unfolds? Gives us a reason to keep turning the page right up to the conclusion.
There’s a cracking video by Shaelin HERE that dives into technical aspects of various structure techniques. Again, Shaelin delivers a very good explanation of several different planning tools that you can think about during your planning phase. However, there is a danger of getting overwhelmed by technical speak and overthinking. Sometimes, it’s better to have a good grasp of the overall picture, and run with it.
Go and write
Now it’s time to put this into practice and write your book. But here’s my favourite piece of advice–don’t sit down and try to write a book. You will be intimidated and could talk yourself out of it. Instead, write your opening chapter and try to enjoy the experience. The rest will follow.
Also, get onto social media platforms now. Follow #INDIEAUTHOR #WRITINGCOMMUNITY and any other hashtag that will put you in touch with people who are on the same path as you. By making connections now, you will learn so much and create some excellent connections within the writing community.