Saturday, 13 October 2018

How to write your novel...or not!

Phil Collins sang about not being able to hurry love. You can’t hurry plots, either. Well, that’s not strictly true. You might be able to put a plot together in three minutes flat, but fleshing out your characters, their interaction and how they affect the overall story will take longer. Sometimes much longer. Some how-to-write-your-novel books make this process seem quick and easy, but that isn't the whole story (pun intended).

There are hundreds of books about how to plot your novel, together with timelines on character arcs and the like. I have never liked the by X%, your character should be doing this and your story should be at this point approach because it seems too mechanical to me. Flowing water is not a ten second soundbite repeated ad infinitum. However, because I was interested in the concept, having never done it, I did attempt to write by formula and ended up being unable to enjoy my writing for a year or write anything I felt could be read by anybody else. 

 
It’s a confidence thing and very few authors - by which I mean 95% of us - have so little confidence in their writing that they will try something new just in case it throws up a different approach that they like. Such open-mindedness is healthy, but what it highlighted for me was that I knew, either by practise or instinct, that my method of writing worked best for me.

While I do accept that there has to be structure to the book you are writing, I also believe that sticking rigidly to a you must do this by this time approach might teach you a lot about how to put x thousand words a day on paper/keyboard but you may also end up with a confused, bloated, perhaps stilted book that has no flow or logic to it.

So, what do I advise? There are so many ‘how-to’ books on writing out there that lead this cynical writer to believe that some do and others teach. That said, many how-to authors write fiction as well, so my first advice would be to read the reviews of those books and then download a couple and judge for yourself. I am assuming (dangerous) that these authors write their fiction using the guidelines they champion in their how-to books. If so, check that out while you are reading the book. Does it grab you? Are the characters fully formed, true to themselves or generic and shallow? Does the progress of the action seem forced or, in the down chapters (can’t have ups without downs), are you bored?

Then read a book you truly enjoy - it might easily be one written by a how-to author. I am thinking Stephen King here. How does that author hit the highs and lows? And, most important, even vital, is the rule that if you don’t agree with what they say, it does not mean they are right and you are wrong. I am again thinking Stephen King and his rule about adverbs. Chips/fries can be very bland without a sprinkling of salt. 


I have always put my instinctual approach to writing down to the fact I am musical and know a lot about structures of symphonies and the like, having studied the subject since I was a child. The great Edward Elgar taught himself to write symphonies by copying a Beethoven symphony structure, down to the number of bars and how each theme was developed. It worked for him. Deconstructing a book you admire might work for you.


You can read more about April Taylor here:

 
 

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