1. sprirj
    Offline

    sprirj Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2009
    Messages:
    523
    Likes Received:
    158

    How to write a novel?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sprirj, Dec 6, 2015.

    I was wondering if there was a book out there that ignores the publishing and editing side of writing. That the prime focus is on structure, outline, character development. Fiction based. No waffle. Any ideas of writing guides like this?
     
  2. Tesoro
    Offline

    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2011
    Messages:
    2,825
    Likes Received:
    290
    Location:
    A place with no future
    There are tons of them!!! :O I have a few in my shelf: Stephen King's book, two from James Scott Bell (Plot and structure & Conflict and suspense), 38 fiction writing mistakes, John Gardners The Art Of Fiction, Dwight Swains The techniques of the selling writer (which is really a good guide for step by step basics), Elisabeth George among others.
     
    AASmith likes this.
  3. Ben414
    Offline

    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2013
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    785
    There are hundreds--if not thousands--of books like this. Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer is a classic, but I've learned that it's too theoretical for me to put it in use much. Joseph Cambell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces is another classic, although I've never read it. Stephen King's On Writing is another classic, but it's more motivational than teaching the mechanics of writing. Robert McKee's Story is a classic for screenwriting, and it has a good amount of relevant material that is useful for fiction writing. It has some good parts and some parts that are too theoretical.

    Some of my favorites include How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell, Invisible Ink by Brian MacDonald, The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley, Writing Active Setting by Mary Buckham, Busy Writer's Guide to Mastering Showing and Telling by Marcy Kennedy, and Busy Writer's Guide to Internal Dialogue by Marcy Kennedy.
     
  4. AlexJames
    Offline

    AlexJames Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2013
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    15
    I'd thoroughly recommend Stephen King's On Writing.
     
    DeadMoon likes this.
  5. DeadMoon
    Offline

    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2014
    Messages:
    756
    Likes Received:
    441
    Location:
    fargo, ND
    That was a good read. Might be time for a reread actually.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    I checked out every fiction writing guide on the library shelves and started going through them until I found the ones that worked for me. It seemed to be individual, what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. The ones that repeated the basics didn't work for me. The ones that dealt more with the finer points did.
     
    jannert likes this.
  7. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,591
    Likes Received:
    5,075
    There are so many different books, all saying things in slightly different ways, that it can actually be pretty confusing.

    Read how-tos if it works for you, but the best how-to books are probably your favourite novels. Read and re-read them. Look at how the author put them together. Figure out the structure. If you're reading how-to books at the same time, try to apply the rules from those books to your favourite novels and see how the authors did, or didn't, follow the rules.

    I think focusing too much on how-to books is a mistake, at least for some writers.
     
    Tea@3 and peachalulu like this.
  8. sprirj
    Offline

    sprirj Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2009
    Messages:
    523
    Likes Received:
    158
    Is there one that discusses how to end your book?
    With examples?
     
  9. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,504
    Likes Received:
    1,337
    @GingerCoffee , knowing your love of supporting research, I'm intrigued as to how you evaluated "what worked for me"? Unless it's on the basis of having written a best-seller on one set of advice, and a dog's dinner on somebody else's, it's surely a subjective judgement?
     
    BayView likes this.
  10. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,591
    Likes Received:
    5,075
    I think this is a problem with almost all writing advice, or writing decisions. Writing is so complicated, with so many factors to consider, that "works" is a really hard term to use with any kind of certainty.

    For some writers, I think "works" means "whatever allowed me to finish the damn first draft." But from a different perspective, is there any benefit in finishing a first draft if it isn't a first draft that will be able to grow into the finished book the writer wants? Maybe, for some writers... I don't know.

    Maybe we should be way more specific about our goals when we're asking for/offering advice? "I want to write a best-seller" probably isn't a useful goal for someone who's just figuring out the basics of writing... too big, too vague.

    What are some reasonable sub-goals? Would it be any easier to give reliable advice if the goals were smaller?
     
    jannert, tonguetied and DeadMoon like this.
  11. mikeinseattle
    Offline

    mikeinseattle Member

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2013
    Messages:
    67
    Likes Received:
    7
    Location:
    Seattle, Washington
    I echo the other poster; Steven King's "On Writing" is great.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
  12. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,821
    Likes Received:
    2,379
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I'm more for examining books you want to emulate or your favorite books. For several good reasons -
    1. You'll pay more attention to a book you like, rather than to snippets in a how-to book of stories you may never read.

    2. The book has already 'spoken' to you in some way so at its core is something waiting to be discovered - why did I like this book so much? How can I achieve the same thing with my readers?

    3. Nothing is out of context - in how-to books every snippet has been pulled from its context and must stand alone, but when you're examining a novel you get to see how things - setting, dialogue, characters, viewpoint, how every technique, effects the overall structure of the novel.

    4. You're not caught up in don'ts, you're caught up in what works.

    But if you still want the basics - maybe check out the Writer's Digest series.
     
    jannert, Tesoro, Tea@3 and 2 others like this.
  13. sprirj
    Offline

    sprirj Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2009
    Messages:
    523
    Likes Received:
    158
    I'm more interested in the science or mechanics of writing. So it says something like:

    Your character should arc like this, this and this, and have this trait as it is shown to bring out empathy etc etc

    Your ending could be this, this or this depending on if you followed structure a, b or c. Etc etc

    Really boiling down best sellers to matter of fact.

    I was just curious if such a thing existed?
     
  14. ToDandy
    Offline

    ToDandy Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2013
    Messages:
    336
    Likes Received:
    206
    Location:
    Bozeman Montana
    This is more for screenwriting but it applies to really all storytelling and has been helpful to me in all forms of writings.

    STORY by Robert McKee

    It is insanely interesting to see the different approaches to storytelling and story structure. I'd recommend it to both aspiring screen writers AND authors.
     
  15. Tea@3
    Offline

    Tea@3 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2015
    Messages:
    322
    Likes Received:
    200
    Location:
    USA
    Ya know, I saw this when I first passed through this thread but today it really hit me hard. Totally agree. Let me add that not o nly will this keep one on closer track with their goals, but also likely to keep one more enthused along the way, more motivated, upbeat.

    (and perhaps less intimidating than technical how-to books)

    And ditto for this^^ Great, encouraging post. Thanks!
     
    peachalulu likes this.
  16. Sack-a-Doo!
    Offline

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2015
    Messages:
    2,231
    Likes Received:
    1,511
    Location:
    [unspecified]
    For overall structure, you might check out some screenwriting guides as well (Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! for instance). Although they talk about the structure of movies, it's still applicable to novels when it comes to creating peaks and valleys in the story.
     
  17. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,780
    Likes Received:
    7,292
    Location:
    Scotland
    Yes, I think that's the best way forward. It's annoying when you can't actually thumb through a variety of books on writing, if your library doesn't carry many of them, but the Amazon 'look inside' feature should give you a list of the table of contents. It's kind of trial and error, though, finding a book that's contains exactly what you're wanting to learn, that fits your style of writing and the kind of story you want to create. I know I've discarded as many as I've kept, and I've only got a couple I still refer to.

    Probably my favourite one, which I still re-read for inspiration is The Novelist's Guide, by Margret Geraghty, 1995. It's out of print, but still available in paperback from Amazon and other used book sources. It's useful because it concentrates on getting you to think about your story and how you're presenting it, rather than being a guide to exactly how you should. This book always makes me want to sit down and write something! It also has a 15-page chapter entitled Sticky Bits and Endings, which @sprirj might find helpful.
     
    GingerCoffee and Tea@3 like this.
  18. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,780
    Likes Received:
    7,292
    Location:
    Scotland
    Yes, I think it definitely would!

    It does help a lot if you've 'already written'—finished a first draft or have written enough chapters to know what you need. Then you'll know what questions to ask.

    I found, after writing a while (without reading any how-to books at all) that I needed to research the idea of pacing. How do you pace a story? How do you slow things down when you want to convey information or make the reader contemplate some aspect of the story? How do you speed things up when you want to create excitement ...without going so fast that the event passes by and doesn't make an impact? When something important happens in real time, it can go too quickly in a story? How to slow it down if you need to, without making the whole thing appear to be slow-mo? A fight, for example. Whack whack, ack ...dead. Erm. Maybe you need more here?

    Pacing is an aspect of creative writing that is often just glossed over, and yet it can be crucial. But it's not an issue you'll consider too much, I reckon, until you're actually writing. I'd say write first, ask questions later. If that makes sense.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,602
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    It's not as subjective as you think. It's more a matter of, does this book address writing skills that are useful to me in the place I'm at with my writing?

    Didn't work for me:
    I didn't find the ones that were little more that citing the basics to be useful. For example, Orson Scott Card's, Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint , describes all the things that make up an interesting character. Well, du'h. That might make sense for someone who is just starting out. All his guides offer the most basic advice.

    From the Amazon reader reviews on Card's book, a couple comments that echoed my experience with the book:
    Now it may be that someone reading those six pages didn't already know that stuff. For that person this might be a very useful guide.

    It was the same with the writing YA class I signed up for last summer and ended up dropping out. The instructor had all these exercises in how to come up with story ideas and those formulaic plot points and story arc guides. Frankly I don't find things like the "mid-point plot reversal" to be useful.

    Did work for me:
    On the other hand Spunk and Bite had what I was looking for. From the editorial review:
    Another book that I found useful was Lisa Cron's, Wired for Story. She delves into character motivation and conflict on an advanced level compared to Orson Scott Card's.
    Again from a review:
     
    Tea@3 and jannert like this.
  20. AASmith
    Offline

    AASmith Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2015
    Messages:
    290
    Likes Received:
    119
    I actually have On Writing sitting on my bedside table. Now that I will be done with my first draft tonight, I was advised to let my work sit for a while before editing it, I will use that time to read that book and pick up tips i can use for the editing process. Very excited about reading it.
     
    Tesoro likes this.
  21. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,780
    Likes Received:
    7,292
    Location:
    Scotland
    Actually both of those look really interesting. I'm going to look them up on Amazon and try to get them both. Thanks for posting, Ginger.

    Edited: Just bought 'em on Kindle. They look really good. I'll away soon and start reading!
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  22. Tea@3
    Offline

    Tea@3 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2015
    Messages:
    322
    Likes Received:
    200
    Location:
    USA
    Two great suggestions, thanks!
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  23. ILaughAtTrailers
    Offline

    ILaughAtTrailers Member

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2015
    Messages:
    94
    Likes Received:
    37
    You can read all the how-to books, advice columns, and opinions you want, but all you're really looking for is if you already know what they're talking about, to confirm your belief in yourself that you know what you're doing, and, if you don't, you're just going to get defeated and not be able to process or understand what the "expert" is trying to say.

    What you need to do is forget what all these "experts" are trying to tell you on how to write a story because the truth is they either don't know what they're talking or are on such a high-level with their writing that you won't be able to understand or process what they're saying anyway.

    I don't want to tell you how to write a story because that would be going against everything I'm trying to say. The one thing I can bestow upon you on how to write a story is something that is irrevocably true and can't be argued with and that's that something happens, then this happened, and then that happened. That's all a story is, I'm sorry to say. It's really boring. There's no structure, character development, or secret formula that you're looking for.

    Look at Finding Nemo, Titanic, or True Detective. All of those stories are great and they're all different from each other and on the surface nothing mind blowing happens except something happened, this happened and then that happened. It's the stuff that's in-between these things, though, that gives the story its heart. The "What am I doing here?" "Why am I here?" "Who am I?" "What's wrong with me?" If your story doesn't concern these things, even when searching for a fish, then no one will care about it because these are things that all of us think about and it's what connects us and makes us feel for something.

    A twenty-something year-old man's mom dies. He goes back home. He meets a girl. The end.

    There, I just explained to you Garden State. That's all the story is. It's simple. Nothing extraordinary happens but it's what happens in-between all of those things that you like and it's the people he meets and the emotions that the story creates. There was no structure that had to be created, no character development, no arc, no theme, no anything. It all came about naturally and if you just stop worrying about all those things, you'll find that it's not so difficult to create. You'll realize that all those people who were trying to give you advice weren't actually teaching you anything you didn't already know. When you ask for advice, you're only asking for confirmation in your own beliefs and when you don't get that you end up disappointed and lose even more confidence in yourself.

    Your story is not as complex as you think it is. Even Lost wasn't that complex of a story when you realize how long the story had to go on before it became so big that people had to start creating diagrams for it. The story was very slowly-paced up until season 4. Your story is not as complex as Lost and is probably something more like Garden State. And don't create a trilogy for your first novel.

    Start your story simple and know your ending and build to that ending or just build from it and work your back. This is not difficult. You don't need to read any how-to books because once you've read all of them (like I have) you'll see how much of a waste they are and how little they actually apply to the actual writing process. It's your heart and the biggest questions you have about life right now that will shine through your story, not something you read from Cat In The Head or anything by Stephen King because what the hell does he know? All he's ever written is horror stories. Be your own role-model; be or work to who you want to be in the next ten years.

    That's the best advice that I can give you. Also, this is going to take a long time to do. It's going to take a minimum five years to write your first of anything that people will want to pay money for. That's the truth. It's a fact it takes a first-time author seven years from the conception of the idea to getting it published. And even then, publishers only publish 3 or 5 out of a thousand manuscripts a month and only look at them for five minutes at a time. So, in the end, even if you do finish what you're writing, it will most likely never even get published. But good luck.

    Do what you love. Success is never a guarantee.
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015
    Raven484, jannert and Tea@3 like this.
  24. BayView
    Offline

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    5,591
    Likes Received:
    5,075
    Okay, I was with you this far, more or less, but then you go a bit off the rails...

    I don't think this is accurate - there are how-to books written at a wide variety of levels. I agree they're mostly crap, but I don't think it's because they're written from ignorance or genius - it's just because they tend to pretend there's only one way to write a story.

    Well, there is, of course, structure--rising tension, climax, and denouement are real things, and they're useful to understand--and of course there's character development--you spend the next few paragraphs talking about it, really.

    I agree there's no secret formula.

    Well, no. He's written quite a bit of non-horror. And even if it was all he'd written, he'd still know something.

    And this is where you lose me entirely. You're just pulling these numbers out of the air, I assume? I'm not sure they're even accurate as averages, but they certainly aren't accurate as absolutes. It doesn't matter how many times you say "That's the truth" or "It's a fact"--the things you're saying are neither the truth nor a fact.

    I'm not sure why you chose to overstate your case quite so strongly, but I think it weakened your post rather than strengthening it.
     
  25. Tea@3
    Offline

    Tea@3 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2015
    Messages:
    322
    Likes Received:
    200
    Location:
    USA
    Wow, that post is intense!
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015

Share This Page