There are three secrets to writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.” ― W. Somerset Maugham
Martial Art of Writing
Similarities to martial arts and writing: both require skills and art. Training is similar.
Break-down movements to understand what you’re trying to do. Then practice. Then put movements together. Then practice. Repetition will build muscle memory. Same in writing. You will learn habits (through reading a lot and writing a lot) that will help you write without thinking about how you’re doing what you’re doing.
You have to get to a place where you are writing without thinking about writing. You’re just trying to live within the scene. You’ll have revision to be more analytical.
YOU NEED BOTH
TELL A STORY/ USE LANGUAGE WELL. Be a story teller and a good writer and you’ll write novels and stories people want to read. These do work together, of course, but you need to understand that the skills come from different places in your mind. You have to see with different eyes.(Need specifics for this to be clear but step 1 is realizing these two essential skills come from different places)
Language—tone, pacing, dialogue, character building, especially through dialogue.
Story: plot, structure: various layers of plot and structure. These can be sentence level sometimes but are definitely: scene, chapter, complete novel. Character development as linked to story
Theme is important: you need to figure out what you’re writing about but it’s not something you have to know right away.
Language and story are partners.
Language usage can create emotions by the choice of words and by creating word images (like the camera does in film) for the reader. They see what’s happening and become involved with it. Characters become real.
Story-plot and structure-hacks the mind of the reader to pull them along with action that keeps them turning the page but also involves them in the bigger story that makes for a satisfying read. Your reader needs to have a strong narrative and feel a sense of progression toward the end.
Why is this short-short good?
Boy kicks dog...conflict established...
Audience sympathetic for puppy—engaged because of this sympathy and how the boy is treating him.
The puppy keeps trying in DIFFERENT ways. The boy keeps resisting. Engages the reader with a question. Will the boy give in?
We’re still pissed and irritated by boy (I’m a dog lover)
BUT we want the boy to be won over by the puppy. We want it for the puppy but we also sort of want it for the boy, hope that it might make him less of a punk.
Then we see the boy. The twist/surprise/changes the story that makes us see everything we’ve already seen in a different way.
As the British says, Brilliant.
ALAS, FIRST DRAFTS SUCK. BE READY FOR IT. I ADVISE, LOW EXPECTATIONS. Keep writing your way through good and bad days.
Failing—being willing to fail—is essential to whatever success you eventually come to with your work
PROCESS (FOR ME) BEGINNING
Character in a situation...and the situation must have potential for CONFLICT
A boy and a girl from warring families fall in love. (this may have been done once or twice)
A boy’s father dies and he suspects it’s murder— worse that his uncle is involved and maybe his mother.
A girl wakesonashipthatseemstobeonthesea but realizes that she is dead. (Zevin, Elsewhere)
TO OUTLINE OR NOT TO OUTLINE: Are you a discovery writer or an outliner or a little of both? Most people are probably a little of both.
John Irving is the ultimate outliner. Brandon Sanderson is also a big outliner. Stephen King is a discovery writer. There is no one way to work. You have to find out what works for you. Experiment.
A character in a situation is how I usually begin. This may include a setting idea along with story. This will get you started but you need more to keep going. If all I have is a cool situation, it’s hard to move past the opening.
I do one page of outlining to have a very general idea of what might happen in the novel. At least this way I can move beyond just the first twenty/ thirty pages.
Then I do a POINTS ON THE MAP—four or five points—from beginning to end that will help me move from point to point. Next step, I’ll try one sentence summary of some scenes in-between the points. All of the above will change in revision
I do outlining as I go along.
Sometimes I will try to just write what I want to do in a scene and write some dialogue as a way to get started on a difficult scene
I try to follow my own advice and keep writing and not let myself be stopped by the messy and ugly first draft.
Do an outline-–a points on a map outline for a story you’re working on (at least five points). Or if you don’t have a story, do an outline for one of the following:
A girl volunteering in an assisted living community notices that people die when they’re befriended by one of the women who lives there.
A policeman owns ten cats and comes home one night and they’re all gone.
A boy and his girlfriend (who cheated on him) meet at a party.
A father and his son, who have never gotten along, have to learn to live together after the boy’s mother/father’s wife dies. One scene that shows them trying to cope together—maybe after the funeral.
A boy suddenly realizes he has some kind of supernatural ability. Maybe he can read minds. He talks to his parents about it. They reveal a secret.