1. chrisrozwod
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    chrisrozwod Member

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    Writing a Novel

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by chrisrozwod, Aug 5, 2009.

    I've had an idea for a novel in my head for a couple of years now. It started off small, but has gotten more and more complex the longer I let the idea simmer.

    I think I'm ready to start working on it. This will be my first attempt at something this large, and I'm a little unsure on how to go about it. My instinct is to start off by making a bunch of notes about the novel--when certain characters meet, when events happen, how characters react, etc.

    I've heard many people say they just start writing. I'm wondering if that's the route I should take. That's how I wrote my favorite short stories, but I don't usually let those simmer much.

    So I'm wondering, what do you all think is the best way for me to go about beginning my first novel? How do you do it?
     
  2. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    I had the same thing going through my head a few years ago and I tried to plan it out. As I did so, I was thinking "Man, this is so easy, once I've planned it out I'm going to skim through this book so quick 'cause I've planned it all out!"

    ...that was not the case.
    I filled up fifty pages of planning and character charts and in depth plots that I honestly had too much to work with when I started my novel and I could not time everything.

    I tried again, just simply writing with a basic plot formed, not stopping for mistakes or things, just jotting stuff I wanted to change down on my handy notepad, and I personally have found it to be much better for me. So, I suggest you try both at once, kind of...
    Maybe start with a basic plot, a basic character, and an outline of the first few chapters, because after that, I'm sure you'll know exactly where you're going.
    But since you've had previous success with just writing, maybe that's what you should do. Good luck
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know what the best way for you is.

    I mull over the idea for a couple weeks, get a clear picture in my mind of the key characters, and where I want te story to go. Ten I do any research I need to do for the setting -- I wriet scifi, so I usually have some research to begin woth folr the sake of realism -- and then just begin writing.

    Other than my research, and possibly some names I;m considering using, I don't write down notes. The manuscript serves that purpose.

    Some people do better with meticulous advance planning and copious notes. I find it stifles my creativity and spontaneity.

    Every writer must find what works best for him/her, though.
     
  4. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    When I start a new project the plot is not so important as the mechanics of story telling. That’s usually the way I start, by reminding myself of what makes up a good story.
     
  5. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe try something in between until you figure out what works best for you. So like just do a brief outline, leave it pretty sketchy, not too many details. As you go along with your story, then see if you feel you really need a more detailed road map, or if it feels too constraining.

    I was once reading Ken Follett's website, and he has a section titled Masterclass where he explains his writing process. He sketches out his ideas, then does research, then types out a 25 to 40 page outline! It explains characters & biographies, and has the key events written out chapter by chapter. He does 2 drafts of the outline, then a final, and only then actually starts writing the novel. I've never finished writing a book yet, but I know I would have -0- motivation left if I were to follow his process. Still, it's one process that works for him, so you might consider it for yourself if it works well for you.

    Good luck.
     
  6. Ansky
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    Ansky Member

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    A few months ago I finished the first draft of my first full length novel. Like Cog said, it certainly differs from person to person. As marina said right above me, Ken Follett, a very successful writer, writes forty page detailed outlines, while a guy like Stephen King, also insanely successful, basically just sits down and writes without even having any idea where the story is going to go from what I understand. Two drastically different strategies, but both guys have millions of readers. This is how I did it, though (and for the record, I am slightly less successful than King and Follett ;)):

    I didn't make tremendously detailed notes by any means, but I laid out a basic idea for the chapters beforehand. I basically wrote down, "Chapter One:" and wrote a very basic outline of what might happen in Chapter One. I did this for a few reasons, but one of the main reasons was to make sure that what I had was enough material to get to novel length. You mentioned that you don't usually plan out short stories, and the same is true for me, but the difference between a short story and a novel is that short stories have no length requirement, while a novel kind of has to be a certain length to be a real novel (and not a novella or whatever).I had previously worked on a project that I planned as a novel but it just didn't get nearly to that point when it came to word count. Even when I added flashbacks and other similar things it was barely half as long as a rather short published novel. I learned quite a bit from that. The prospect of writing something of novel-length without SOME sort of written plan to follow or sort of follow is just too daunting for me. (Actually, though, I did have an outline for that one. There were other reasons it came up way too short, which I addressed in the novel that did reach novel-length.)

    That being said, as I was writing my novel I did NOT hold firmly to that chapter by chapter outline, and I think that if I had it would have greatly weakened the story. That was just to get down my ideas for the story on paper in some semblance of their final order. I took some of the stuff out, I added other ideas that I came up with as I was writing, I switched around the order of things where it made sense, etc. I think that whatever notes you make, if you choose to make any, you should be completely prepared to ignore them completely or go in a different direction if you're feeling something different or if something else feels right.

    It sounds like your initial plan is to make some pretty basic notes and go from there (maybe even less detailed than what I did, which is definitely fine.) My take is that something like that is better than very detailed notes, because if I feel that if you get too detailed you might become beholden to "the plan." If you just make basic notes or a basic chronology it leaves a lot of wiggle room. That being said, I'm sure there are plenty of writers who swear by detailed notes and planning. The bottom line is that you know your writing style and how you work better than anyone, so you should do what you think is right for you.

    Also, one more thing, as if I haven't said enough. If you've gotten to the point where you don't feel that there's much more than you can add without weakening the story and you're far short of the number of words necessary for novel-length, don't be afraid to stop. A great 45,000 word piece is better than a boring and mediocre 80,000 word piece that was dragged kicking and screaming to get to that word count. You'll also learn a lot about how to pace things and what you need to do to try to get there the next time.

    Good luck with it. :)
     
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  7. Largeman
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    Largeman Member

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    I would first suggest you read a book called Bird by Bird By Anne Lamott. It will really help you out, every single step of the way; piece by piece, bird by bird.
     
  8. hawkedup
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    hawkedup Member

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    I was one of those people that just could not finish a novel to save his life. Like some of you, I would start, get to a point significantly before halfway through, and then get distracted. I only finished my first first full draft of a full length novel last October and then another one in November. National Novel Writing Month. I assume it isn't "for everybody" but it really got me going.
     
  9. murphcas
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    murphcas Member

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    The only notes I make are character sheets on my characters. I find this easier to get to know the character. If I don't really know them right away, or don't have a clear idea about them I just start to write and eventually their true character appears. The only other notes I've made are simple notes on the area that I'm using. The story I'm writing now is based in New York so I've looked at both subway and regular maps of the area I'm using to get the area somewhat familiar to me.

    But I suggest just doing what you feel works for you. if you like writing notes out first then do it, but otherwise just write. if you think of something you don't want to forget jot it down.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ugh. Character sheets. I hate them, and I recommend against them. They encourage a static, inflexible view of your character.
     
  11. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I was just browsing some old files on the computer -- I actually have "character sheets" for some (but not all) of the characters in my novel, and some for characters I never even used.

    My idea for doing character sheets came from my reading of "How to Write a Damn Good Mystery" by Frey (which did have several ideas that helped me get started) and I think the process initially may have helped me to create some of my characters, but I abandoned the sheets as I got into the actual story creation and never looked back, even when I created new characters that made their way into the story during story development.

    Those characters that I did sheets on evolved quite a bit during the story creation. It's kind of odd, reading my old character sheets now. They seem like different characters. There are details I completely forgot that I had written.
     
  12. lovely
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    lovely Member

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    Honestly, planning can end up being a waste. I'm not saying not to plan. You have to do that to a certain extent, but don't waste a year planning every single point. Chances are that it will change anyway. Maybe just get the big conflict and potential resolution and go from there. I tend to do that and maybe one or two stops along the way, but I think until the characters are actually on paper, you never truly know where you're going. Right now I'm actually taking a break from my novel to think about where it's going, and I'm glad I didn't plan it. I'm only six chapters in, and it's already vastly different than what I imagined.

    If, however, the idea of writing without a plan scares you, then take more time to plan. Just don't be afraid to adjust the plan when necessary. Remember that your plan is not set in stone. Characters develop and plot changes!
     
  13. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    While I wouldn't want to spend an entire year planning, I tried the "Stephen King" method (recommended in On Writing) of just writing and getting it all on paper with no planning at all, and what I wrote was junk.

    I needed a plot outline. The plot outline was key to my having successfully written my novel.

    Charlie
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Whatever method you end up using, finishing a novel is a big task, and for most writers it takes much dedication and discipline.

    I think about the story of a novel as I am working on the end of another novel. This gives me a few weeks to really think about the characters, how they grew up, where they grew up, if any of their family members died, etc. It gives me time to think of the beginning (hook) conflict and the resolution. I put some thought into the middle of the story, but most of that I come up with while writing.

    I jot down notes during this thinking period, things I don't want to forget. Like that Skyla is called pointy because her ears still stick out, not having smoothed back. Ears smooth back once an Elf goes through puberty. They also call her outy. These are details I don't want to forget, so I write them down. I usually have all the major plot points figured out before I begin writing, but I still have to do all the hard work, connecting those plot points and creating scenes.
     

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