"Books want to be born: I never make them. They come to me and insist on being written, and on being such and such." --Samuel Butler
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Samuel Butler reveals one of the keys of writing a good novel in this aphorism. Writers must let their ideas come to them not struggle to come up with an idea. If a good idea comes to a writer, he or she will be able to tell. Writers seem to have a sixth sense that can tell whether an idea is a good one or not. Good writers just seem to know when an idea will work. In my opinion, getting an idea that I could turn into a novel is the hardest part of writing one. A writer might think than an idea is a good one, but the idea could lead to a dead end. A bad idea for a writer is like being lost at sea on a small piece of wood with a pack of sharks closing in. The troubling thing about getting ideas is testing them. Once a writer gets a good idea, he or she can build his or her own world. Writing comes naturally for some, but for others, "the more [they] write," the easier writing comes to them (Patric online). Learning how to write well is a long process.
I have been writing stories and poems from the time that I learned how to write. Writing is my creative outlet. When I am not writing, I am thinking about what I am going to write. About four years ago, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I thought that writing one was going to be easy. I was wrong. Thinking that writing the novel would not need much preparation; I dove headfirst into a sea of words. I did not plan, research, or outline. That was a huge mistake. I was stuck after the first chapter. After almost a month or so of writer's block, I decided that the best thing to do was to keep my main ideas, build off them, and throw out the old story. A fresh start was all that I needed. My novel seemed to just flow out of me from that point on.
Like almost every type of writing, a novel is a product of the writer's imagination. Some people like to believe that a novel is a short story that is stretched to be the length of a book. That, however, is not the case. A novel is "different from a short story" because of "its… plot complexity" (Collier & Leighton 15). If a writer were to stretch a short story to be the length of a novel, the novel would lack almost everything that the book needs. Concerning time, writing a novel differs from writing anything else. Because of the time that the thinking and writing processes consume, some people find the fact that novelist actually have lives, outside of their novels, hard to believe. Just doing research on a topic can take from a few months to a year. When writing a novel, there is no way for the writer to tell how long the process will take. If there were a way to tell, I believe people would have a better appreciation for novelists. Writing a fiction novel is such a long process because the writer must get an idea, form a beginning, middle and an ending, then revise.
Each of these steps play key roles in writing a decent fiction novel. Without one, a writer cannot get to the other. Every part of the novel must play off the previous pieces, like a chain reaction. The story must flow. From ideas to final revisions, a writer should stay mentally connected to his or her work in progress. An author's focus plays another important part in developing a novel. Because focus is essential, a writer must set a path for their novel in the beginning. He or she must follow that path from the beginning, to the middle, and to the end. This is more difficult to do than to say. A writer must not stray from his or her set path, no exceptions. A jumbled plot and confusing story could result if the writer becomes unfocused. To stay on track, many writers need something to motivate them.
A writer must ask his or herself, "where will my fiction come from?" Fiction can "come from anywhere" and finding its origin is important for the author to do before writing (MaCauley & Lanning 4-5). Fiction can originate from "direct personal impression" to "the writer's resources of experience" (MaCauley & Lanning 3). Most fiction is based on nonfiction. A writer's experience mixed with his or her imagination is the source of fiction. Many people do not realize that the "imagination [is] a form of knowledge" (Stern 62-63). Where a writer gets his or her fiction is "determined by who [he or she is]" (Reed 11). Once a writer finds where his or her fiction originates they can begin the process of writing a novel.
Before a writer even begins to think about an idea, he or she need to find a motivator, something to keep them focused and working. Passion is a main source of motivation for many writers. Writer's have to "have passion for what [they] do," or their work will not be rewarding in the end (Shaara online). When a novelist writes with passion for a topic, the topic seems "much more important" than if the writer were to throw together ideas that he or she does not seem to care about (Colloff & Magnuson online). Passion can be drawn from a number of places inside a writer. A novelist can draw his or her passion from anything. According to Graham Green, "all good novelists have bad memories," even though some do have good memories as well (qtd. in Butler 23). A memory is just one example of something that can drive a writer.
Another thing that a novelist must do before he or she begins to search for ideas is to choose what type of novel he or she wants to write. When picking the kind of novel they want to write, novelists should not "feel shy" towards exploring the many kinds of novels that are published (Collier & Leighton 26). Writers can "consider some successful stories" and their author's style in order to choose what kind of novel they want to write (Glimm online). A writer must have their "own style," though (Reed 113). Writers need to have originality. They need to "go along with [their] own bent mind[s]" (Collier & Leighton 33).
After a novelist develops passion and a style, he or she can move onto finding a good idea to base a book on. Many writers "get ideas from the things [they] see" (Patric online). They can "see a story in just about" anything (Baker online). That seems easy enough for most writers, but for some novelists, writing about something they have experienced is easier. A writer should not "be afraid to draw from [his or her] life" (Colloff & Magnuson online). Once a writer finally finds a few ideas that could produce a novel, he or she needs to narrow the ideas down to one. This part of the process may seem to take "quite a long time" because the author must test every idea to see if the thought is worthy of becoming a novel (Smith online). Before sitting down to write, "a writer must have a story in mind" (Roth, The Writer's Partner 23). Getting an idea that fits the writer's chosen style and that the writer is passionate about is the most difficult part of the process of writing a fiction novel.
Now that the writer has an idea in mind, he or she must choose a topic. The writer must "[ask his or herself] what do I want to write about?" (Reed 8-9). Where is the author going to go with their newly formed idea? Many novelists enjoy writing about something they "sort of know" rather than going blind into a topic. A writer's topic is like an "egg," sometimes the writer needs to "sit on [the topic] a bit longer" (O'Conner 10). Like an idea, a writer must test a topic to see if the subject will work. A writer's worst nightmare can be to "realize that [their topic] is sterile" or empty (MaCauley & Lanning 17). Once a writer finds a topic that will work for their idea, he or she must know the subject inside and out. The author should be able to "[explain]" the subject "in clear English" before they begin writing about the topic (O'Conner 9). When the writer is sure of his or her topic, he or she can begin researching their topic in more detail.
Even when writing a fiction novel, research and organization are extremely important. The novelist needs to research his or her subject in depth. They must know their subject thoroughly. Research is a "time consuming process" for a writer, but having knowledge of his or her topic is necessary (Roth, The Fiction Writer's 295). After a novelist researches every aspect of his or her subject, they will probably have a large amount of clutter around their workstation. This means that writers, for their own sanity, have to organize. I am an unorganized person, but when I write, everything needs to be organized. Organization is almost as important as research. Many writers organize by "hoarding" their information then going back though what they have. Like many writers, I keep a notebook. This allows the writer to "put down ideas" whenever he or she feels the need to (McCauley & Lanning 7). In addition, many writers tend to keep a form of an outline to help them organize. Fiction outlines look nothing like formal outlines. A fiction outline can consist of "short paragraphs" or phrases with "dialogue [and] descriptions" (Kafka online). Once a writer has researched his or her topic and organized all of the material he or she has developed, the writer is only one-step away from finally being able to start the novel.
A writer must also know who will be reading his or her novel. They need to know their audience. A novel is not one sided. There is a giving end, the writer, and a "receiving end," the audience (O'Conner 13). A writer needs to know their audience, not on a personal level, but more like a business level. The writer needs to know who will be reading his or her type of novel. A novel "requires at least two people" (O'Conner 12). Without an audience, there is no novel. When the writer knows who is going to be reading their novel, they can finally begin writing their novel.
When beginning a novel, the novelist must consider a few important details. First, the writer should think about the "shape" or what "experiences, memories, and imaginings" that he or she would include (Stern 3-4). Next, writers need to consider how they are going to start their novel. Many writers start their novels out with "a hint of drama" to catch their audience's interest (MaCauley & Lanning 25-26). Point of view, or where the writer is writing from, is "the single most important decision" for a writer when beginning a novel (Reed 48). The writer needs to know who is telling the story. The writer must also hint about the theme in the beginning because he or she needs an "arena [for the] story" to take place in (Roth, The Fiction Writer's 36). A writer should also start "with something that will capture tone" (MaCauley & Lanning 29-30). Setting a tone for the entire novel is important for a writer to do in the beginning. Lastly, the writer needs to consider his or her ending because all beginnings "must also have seeds of finality in them" (MaCauley & Lanning 26). After the novelist considers all of these things, they can finally throw themselves into their novel.
Characters play a key role throughout the entire novel. Characters are "the most important elements of [a writer's] story" because without characters, there is no story (Roth, The Fiction Writer's 4). In the beginning, the author needs to begin developing characters. According to George C. Wolfe, "[a writer has] to be available to the invisible voices that are swirling around [him or her]" (qtd. in Butler 165). In other words, a writer needs to listen to his or her characters. A writer needs to "think… [like] every one of the characters" that he or she has created (Roth, The Fiction Writer's 35). A writer builds characters "by asking…questions about the character" (Collier & Leighton 42). When describing characters, a novelist should "describe characters down to the minutest detail" (Roth, The Fiction Writer's 242). A story needs "memorable" characters. Take J.R.R. Tolkien's character Frodo Baggins for example. Even people who have not read any of books in The Lord of the Rings series know who Frodo is because of his achievements in the books. Characters must also "change and advance, or regress" throughout the course of the novel (Collier & Leighton 40 & 46). Fiction seems to "[grow] out of character," so the author must have good characters and character development (Glimm online). In all novels, there must be a protagonist and an antagonist. They "must each have a plan," whether the plan is against each other or not (Roth, The Writer's 24). The protagonist and antagonist's plans will create conflict later in the novel.
After the novelist has created his or her characters, they must create a setting, in which all or most of the novel will take place. Setting "is terribly important" in a novel, so the location of the story must be almost as or more detailed than the characters (Smith online). In some novels, "everything begins with place" (Kanon online). A writer should research his or her setting almost as much as his or her topic before writing about the place or time period. Another part of the setting that a writer could include is a "time limit" (Roth, The Writer's 25). A limited time can add a "sense of urgency to the story" (Roth, The Writer's 25). Along with setting, the writer should add a back-story. A back-story is "all that had gone on before" the time that the novel takes place (Roth, The Writer's 24). After the novelist has established a setting and back-story, he or she needs to develop a hook.
Authors use hooks to grab their audience's attention and keep them focused on their novel. A hook is "the first event that gets [the writer's] story going" (Roth, The Writer's 23). Hooks keep the "audience's attention and interest" though the course of the novel, but they are most important in the beginning (Roth, The Writer's 23). Without an attention-grabbing beginning, the writer's novel will probably go nowhere. Hooks also give the reader "a hint of what to expect" in the novel (Collier & Leighton 55). Using one large hook "could be a handicap" for the writer, instead, the author should use a series of small, subtle hooks like "strangeness of character," for example (MaCauley & Lanning 22). After the writer has hooked their audience and introduced them to the characters, setting, and theme, he or she can move on to the middle of the novel.
The middle of the novel is probably the hardest part of the novel to write for some writers. This is where the writer can get confused with plot and characters. When writing this part of the book, the author must stay focused and keep track of what he or she has already written. Writers should "[go] back and [reread] what [they] did" in the previous session of writing, so they know exactly where they left off (Shaara online). Most writers' writing sessions are "never planned," so in order to keep track of what and how much they have written, I believe that they should keep a daily log near their work space (Kafka online). Many writers like "to keep track of what is written" so they do not miss any important details or issues (Collier & Leighton 92). Writers also need to "pay attention to small" details when they write because missing one small detail can throw off the entire novel (Patric online). Staying focused is important for the author to do in order to stay on track throughout the rest of the novel.
When the writer is ready to start the uphill climb of the plot triangle, he or she should know where to start. By now, the exposition, or beginning, has already been taken care of and a conflict should already be heating up between the protagonist and the antagonist. Conflict plays a major role in the plot of a novel because "without conflict, there can be no drama" or action (Roth, The Writer's 24). After the author has made a conflict arise between the two opposing forces, they should "plot points [, or] 'crises'… leading to the climax" (Roth, The Writer's 24). Plot points are important to the author because they keep the reader interested in where the story is leading and what is going to happen to the characters. Once the writer has set all of his or her plot points, they have to be ready to make an impact on the reader with the climax "bringing [everything] to a head" (Roth, The Writer's 24). The climax is the strongest link in "the chain of events that keep [the] story connected" (Roth, The Writer's 25). The climax will add complexity as well as meaning to the writer's story.
When dealing with complexity, a writer needs to be careful of complicating his or her story. If the author's story is "too complicated," the writer will have trouble "[explaining] what's happening" (Stern 65). Complex writing without complication of plot is reachable by a writer. They just need to stay focused and alert when writing. One way to get complex writing is to dive "straight [into] action" in a certain part of the novel where something like that would nicely fit (Glimm online). Suspense can also add complexity to a novel. When using suspense, the writer should start out in the beginning and "acutely [intensify]" the suspense to the climax or just after the climax where the anticipation can be broken (Roth, The Fiction Writer's 50-51). Writers "need to discover [their] fiction from the inside" out in order to properly add complexity to their story (Reed 23). They must know every part of what they have written and what they are going to write. After the writer has gotten an understanding of the complexity of his or her story, they should add layers and different levels to their novel.
Many writers use layers and levels to help convey the theme that they are trying to get across to their audiences. Some writers use "internal change points in [their] character(s)" to add layers to their novels (Roth, The Writer's 25). Other writers work "not only forward but backward" to add levels to their stories (Glimm online). Some writers also use objects or characters that "can work on multiple levels" (Glimm online). For example, an object that can work on multiple levels is a picture. Pictures can trigger happy, sad, or regretful memories in characters each adding another level. Writers need to "take advantage of" objects like these to help layer their stories (Glimm online). Once a writer has established different layers and levels in his or her novel, the writer should make sure they he or she uses dialogue.
Dialogue is necessary in a fiction novel. Many novels have "a lot of dialogue" (Collier & Leighton 50-51). Most characters are not mutes or mimes, so they need to talk. Dialogue helps the character "become" what they are (Reed 69). Dialogue also is a key to "maintaining the story's pace" (Baker online). When some writers type out dialogue, they "need to hear" if what they are typing sounds natural, so the say what they are typing out loud (Kanon online). Dialogue must flow naturally when read. A writer must ask himself or herself "would a person actually say that?" before typing what they have to say. When the author has finally conquered dialogue and the rest of the ingredients for the middle of a novel, he or she can finally tie up all the loose ends.
The resolution is the end of the plot triangle. The ending is the "final element, the outcome of [the writer's] story" (Roth, The Writer's 24). This is where all of the levels, layers, conflicts, and characters are all neatly tied together. Not all endings are happy ones. However, a happy ending can just consist of "justice" or "the hero still [living]" (Collier & Leighton 57). No matter how a writer ends a novel, the resolution "should tell what happens and not leave the reader dangling" (Collier & Leighton 57). An ending must "fill in the gaps" that the reader may have forgotten about (Collier & Leighton 93). Finally, the writer is finished with his or her novel. The author has finished writing, that is. Now, the writer must revise or edit their entire novel.
The first and major step of revision is for the writer to get his or her mind off the manuscript. Writers should "put the manuscript away to cool" and not look at what they have for at least a week (Collier & Leighton 93). Once the writer has gotten his or her mind completely off the manuscript, the author should read what he or she has written. The writer should have some paper and pens near so that they can "jot down [his or her] ideas… for improvement" (Collier & Leighton 95). After the writer has read the manuscript once, he or she should fix what has been marked. Once the novelist has fixed the manuscript, he or she should read what they have written again "and see how [he or she likes]" the changes (Collier & Leighton 102). If the writer is still unhappy with the manuscript, he or she should fix the novel again.
For some writers, rewriting their novel is their best choice of revision. For some writers, separating "revision from actual writing" can be a hard task (McCraken online). I always find myself rewriting more and writing new things less. The more a writer rewrites his or her story, the more the "story develops on several levels" (Reed 18). For some writers, "rewriting is everything" because rewriting can turn a terrible novel into a good one just by changing a few key points (Collier & Leighton 96). Rewriting for some writers consists of "[taking] the worst chapter and [making the worst chapter] the best chapter" (Colloff & Magnuson online). Many writers "cut out" things that they find are "unnecessary" (Collier & Leighton 99). Once the writer has finished his or her revisions, the writer should "put all of the pieces of [their] manuscript together to see" if he or she likes the changes that have been made (Collier & Leighton 102). If the writer likes what he or she sees, the writer is finished. Now that the writer is done with his or her novel, he or she can send the manuscript to the editor or publisher.
Writing a novel is a time consuming project. Many people ask why writing a novel takes so long. I believe that writing a novel is so time consuming because the process that a writer must follow is a long one. There are things that a writer must do to create a novel. The writer needs to get a thought and turn that thought into a beginning, middle, an ending, and then tackle the process of revising what he or she has written. According to Sir Winston Churchill, "writing a book is an adventure." I have to agree with him because as a novelist writes, he or she can be sucked into the world of their imagination and explore places that he or she has never been. For some writers, writing a novel can take years, and for others writing a novel may only take months. All writers move at different paces, but the process still stays the same.
Before a novelist sits down to write, he or she must know where their fiction is coming from. They also must have a sincere passion for what they want to write. After the writer has found the source of his or her fiction and something that he or she is passionate about, the writer must choose a style or genre that he or she wishes to write in. Next, the author needs to find an idea that will go along with his or her passion, chosen style, and genre. Once the writer finds an idea, he or she must narrow that idea down to one topic. With the topic chosen, the writer must research the subject in depth. When the research is done, the writer needs to consider his or her audience.
The next part of the process is forming the beginning. In this part of the process, the writer must consider the overall tone and theme of the novel. Without the tone and theme, the novel would be pointless and the characters would not have goals. The writer must introduce and develop his or her characters. No matter how many characters there are, each should be developed thoroughly in the beginning of the novel. The author must also introduce and develop the initial setting of the novel. Where and when is the story going to take place? The most important thing that a writer must do in the beginning is create a hook or many small hooks to catch his or her readers and keep them interested. Without an interested audience, the novel will probably be a waste of time.
After the novelist has created a beginning, he or she must follow through with the middle of the novel. The writer must keep track of what he or she has written in this part of the novel so that he or she can stay on track. The writer must also pay close attention to small details. The middle section of a novel should contain a well-structured plot. The plot should be complex and follow the theme that was established in the beginning of the novel. The middle of the novel should be where the writer begins to layer and add levels to his or her characters and plot. In the middle of the novel, the writer should use a lot of dialogue to help convey his or her story, tone, and theme.
When the writer is finished with the middle of the novel, he or she must work on an ending. The ending must bind the whole story together. In the ending, problems must be resolved. The writer must also never leave his or her audience hanging. When the writer has created a concrete ending, he or she must then revise his or her manuscript several times. Writers must add things as well as cut out the parts that they want. When the writer has revised his or her manuscript at least twice, he or she can finally send the novel to the editor or publisher.
This seemingly simple process has taken me four years so far. I am not even finished with my novel yet. Many people do not realize how much time and effort go into a novel. They need to realize that, though. Just recently, I have heard people verbally ripping Herman Melville's Moby Dick to shreds. I cannot stand to hear people disrespect writers like that even if the writer is not anywhere near as good as Melville. The process that writing a novel takes is worth respect a large amount of respect alone. The process of writing a fiction novel is always time consuming, fun for the most part, sometimes frustrating, but never boring. A novelist never has nothing to do. A novel is part of the writer no matter how long or short the process may be.