I volunteer on the board of directors for the Ottawa Independent Writers (https://www.ottawaindependentwriters.com). One night, I spoke with some people at a meeting who suggested that they wanted to learn the basics of writing a novel and what was the best venue? I didn’t have an answer for that because I am self-taught for the most part. But what I do have is my experience. I have been writing for over twenty years. It started out with poetry and I gradually added short stories, novels and now blog posts. I’m learning by reading books (of course) and trial and error. So for the next few blog posts, I’m going to talk about ‘How To Write a Novel,” in my own style. Hope you’ll stick around for the ideas, even if you aren’t a writer. You never know, you might become one.
Part One: The character(s)
So you have this great idea that you want to turn into a book. It’s going to be absolutely wonderful and you can’t wait to get started. So do it, start writing. Write out a starting paragraph, even a chapter. You can do your character development at the same time or before you write. It’s entirely up to you. But the character is everything. So much so, let’s stop using the word ‘character.’ I don’t want to hear about these people as if they were fictional. I want you to convince me that they’re real. So how do we do that? Get to know your character, first and foremost. I’m not suggesting that you need to know how they celebrated their twelfth birthday or which vegetables they prefer. But know their important aspects, their personality. This will help you when you start throwing them into situations (a future post).
I wrote a book called Pure Red Sand: An Expensive Retreat. Actually, I wrote three books with these characters but you’ve probably only seen one, unless you’re an early follower with a Kindle. I started this novel on a laptop on a small island in the Labrador Sea. It was the first time I’d just decided to write a book. I had the benefit that the book was VERY loosely based on a short story. But very quickly I realized that the characters were too one dimensional to transfer from a four page short story to a 900 plus page trilogy. They just weren’t strong enough. So here’s what I decided while I was writing the first chapter.
Nadine was going to be a strong woman. She’d grown up that way and had little choice. But there were repercussions for that kind of strength, in her life anyway. She always made the difficult decisions, looking at things logically and with the best of intentions but maybe not with emotions at heart. That might have made her a great medic. But it also made her prickly with other people, unwilling to trust and maybe even reluctant to take on anything resembling a greater responsibility. After all, she’d made a success out of her life. Wasn’t that enough? As many of you know, it wasn’t.
So once I had my character written, once I knew her, then I would know how she was going to react in certain situations. For instance, when strangers came to her home, would she welcome them in or turn them away?
Here are some questions you might want to consider when thinking about your character. Whether you keep your ideas in your head (like me) or you want to write them out, this might help:
Are they of their own time? (Do you have time travel/a new world/an adventure?) If they are, then you can take a lot of things for granted. If not, keep in mind how people react to new things.
What things do they have in common with you? They say write what you know. But I see a lot of scope in not being me. That said, I find it easier to write the character when I have something in common with them. Like Nadine, I always wanted to be strong. I could empathize with her efforts and her mistakes.
What’s their emotional state? People who have a fairly stable life are going to react differently to a crisis than those who are already having crises of their own.
How did they grow up? Did they have economic/social stability? Were they loved? We’re all heavily influenced by our past.
Where are they now? Nadine was a loner and a little anti-social in the beginning.
What kind of social network do they have? Are they close to family and friends or separate from those around them?
Keep adding your own questions until you have your people!
If you’re in the Ottawa area on December 9, 2017, I will be at the Indie Author Book Fair. St David and St Martin Church Hall, 444 St Laurent Blvd. 2-6pm. Come visit and pick up a couple of holiday presents. A book makes a wonderful gift.