Writing a novel

Once again, I would like to state that I don’t believe there is any formula that works for all writers, whether it’s a page, paragraph, poem or publishable book.

          Yes, good grammar helps: understanding the need (or not) for all those apostrophes, commas, sentences and flow of prose. And, knowing where to indent, when to finish paragraphs and chapters, how long monologues should be etc., – it all helps (not that I think I have got a complete handle on all that just yet, and neither are writers all in agreement as to such things. Contemporary vs. traditional. Genre vs. genre etc.,) But, at the end of the day, there are mountains of websites, blogs, proofreaders, editing services and manuscript assessment agencies, all willing to take your bucks off you in return for a quick spit and polish.

So, continuing on in the vein of my last posts, all I can offer is my experience.

I know of no writer who sets out to write a novel in similar fashion. Some begin with months or even years of plotting. Some start with a sketchy outline. Some just start writing and hope their muse takes over.

One thing I do know is that wherever one starts or ends that is very often never where the final manuscript starts or ends. Chapters get changed, cut, discarded and reinstated. It is kind of like a film script: Many shoots, realms of film and very many cuts take place before the final screening.

I’m the ‘quick outline’ kind of writer, a maximum of two pages, often hand written in bed, no character’s names, and no timelines; just a vague idea and plot.

Then I work out the ages of my characters, the era in which the novel is set and draw a timeline of seasons of the year and births, deaths and marriages etc.,

I was given a Romance Plot Chart by my mentor, playwright Kenneth G Ross (Breaker Morant fame) and I have found this invaluable. He calls it ‘Snakes and Ladders, A – K.’ Here it is:

  1. Fill in your main character’s (the protagonist i.e. the good guy) goals and conflicts.
  2. Give the details of her first big setback.
  3. How does she overcome the setback?
  4. Have the goal in sight – develop the romance.
  5. Introduce a new setback, one even worse than the first.
  6. Solving this new setback leads to a rock bottom point.
  7. Give an insight / change to turn things around
  8. Use a respite to further develop the romance
  9. Things are looking good but a new setback is experienced
  10. The solution to this makes romance less likely
  11. Last dramatic moments – and the resolution!

 I liken it to putting your protagonist up a tree and letting all of her enemies (antagonists) throw stones at her until the hero arrives and gets her down from the tree. She finds her own way back up there only to endure more stone throwing etc., until finally she learns how to jump down from the stupid tree herself!

So there you have it: an outline: a place to start. I hope this helps. However, please do start. And, I would encourage you to get it all down, every word that spills onto the page, no matter how awkward. There will be days when you write for hours and everything seems like pure genius, others will be 60 minutes of agony. Just ignore it and get it all down on the page. Don’t stop. Don’t review on the first draft.

 I remember being so pleased with myself after completing my first manuscript – all 150,000 words of it!

After telling my mentor that it was finished and ready to be submitted to a publisher, he laughed. He generously offered to read it, did so, and slapped it down on my desk a week later and said,’ now the real work begins, Jaci. Oh, and by the way, most novels, and particularly debut novels are 75,000 – 80,000 words.’

Half the freaking length of my brilliant novel? Was he kidding me?

No, he wasn’t! And I now know what he meant. Rewrite, rearrange, rewrite, rearrange, rewrite, edit, edit, edit.

The obese manuscript (no matter how loved) needs to go on a diet until it becomes positively anorexic,(in fact so close to death many a writer accepts its fate and walks away.) But the determined writer takes the skeletal manuscript  by the hand and feeds it with wholesome food, trains and exercises it until it is ready to be submitted.

Did that mean my final, final, final draft was a roaring success with the publishers?

Not exactly!

Until my next blog. Jaci Byrne

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