How does one even begin to start writing a novel or any kind of long narrative when they have never attempted it before? I have been asked various forms of this question a number of times in the past. Before I attempt to make an answer here, let me first say that I am by no means an expert. I have abandoned more novels than I have finished. I am not yet published. However, with each writing you finish or attempt to finish you learn something new about the craft.
I just heard a noise outside my bunker. I will return shortly.
Sorry for that brief interruption. It was only the wind knocking the thick reeds against the wall. You can’t be too careful out here in the Lightning Marsh. Where was I? Oh yes, what I have learned so far in practicing my craft. It starts with an idea.
No doubt many of you have at least one idea that you believe would make a good story. My ideas usually end up in one of two categories; character or plot. I may build a plot around a particularly interesting character or build a character from a cracker jack plot. When creating a character, be certain that you know that character inside and out. You need to know why they do the things they do, what they like to eat for breakfast, what they do with their free time, where they came from…you get the idea. Building a character from scratch often presents a story for them to be in. When you build a plot be certain to keep it short at first. You want to be able to explain the core of the plot within one or two sentences.
Once I have a plot or character, I get into the reeds of the story I want to tell. What genre is it? Is this something that would work as a screenplay or novel or comic book? Who are the supporting characters? At this stage I write out a description of the entire story from beginning to end. I know that everything I write in this outline can and will change but it helps to have a map to assist in navigating through the story I write. Everyone will outline differently. Some will write extensive outlines of several pages and some will write only a page or two, like me. I tend to also write brief outlines of each upcoming chapter before I write them. To each his own.
This stage is also a good time to begin writing to your strengths. Writing a prolonged story is difficult and takes patience and fortitude. You want to be writing something you love. Never write something just because you think it will be popular or make a ton of money, write something that brings you joy. I try to write something I would want to read if I saw a synopsis of it on the back of a book or watch if I saw the movie trailer for. One of the most quoted writing advice is to write what you know. I say to write what you love and you will find that you know a lot about it.
It also helps to know your weaknesses. Often you will find this by trial and error. Many of my unfinished novels or screenplays are because I attempted to write something that was not tailored to my strengths. Don’t be afraid to stop writing and retool something if you find it just isn’t working and you come to know why it isn’t. I found that I am not very good at stories with huge stakes where the fate of the entire world or galaxy is in danger of exploding into nothing. I am much more at ease with stories with smaller more personal stakes. Big or small, there must always be something at stake.
Well, that was a lot more than I planned to write. That’s all for now. I must rest before the lighting fog hits. Take care.