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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Novel-Writing Methodology

This was written to help keep myself on track to write the best novel possible. I decided that the most important thing I could do was constantly work at holding the reader's interest. As I wrote the novel, I created a spreadsheet, which I am now using as a check-off list to make sure I am covering all the points listed below and more for every chapter. I will post a version of my spreadsheet sometime soon. I am working on the novel's second draft. I will submit it for publication after I finish my third draft.

A: NARRATIVE TENSION: THE DESIRE TO GET TO THE NEXT PAGE!
The reader has to desire something. What? Perhaps all of the following. Every sentence of the book has to be presenting the reader with at least one of these things and probably several. I also need to keep in mind how it advances the plot.
1. Questions
The book must have unanswered questions that the reader is very anxious to have an answer for. That is what makes a "whodunit" fun to read.
2. Goals
Do primary characters have defined goals? Reader must share characters' passion for reaching the goal, which must be attainable. Climax of each character's story line is reaching the goal.
3. Excitement
Will character whom reader cares about die in next paragraph? Will character's dreams be dashed in next paragraph? Will plans currently running carry to fruition? Will plans character doesn't know about, but reader does, hit character in the head?
4. Urgency
Is reader asking, "Why doesn't X happen now?" The reader must feel that unless X happens now, something bad will happen.
5. Passion
Is character whom reader cares about passionate about something or things? Does reader identify with those passion(s)? Are passions being fulfilled?
6. Romance
Readers want to feel "in-love." There are thousands of things, usually a person is unaware of, that makes up romance. Does the reader have the "feeling?"
7. Poignancy
Do events pull at heartstrings?
8. Humor
Does the general tenor of the writing keep a smile on the reader's face? Are events humorous? Are at least some characters funny.
9. Cleverness
Do readers think, "Hey that's neat, a clever idea?"
10.Awe
Is environment awe inspiring, or giving sense of wonder? Sitting on a Saturn V at takeoff.
11.Sympathy
Are there little lost puppies, either real or as part of characters?
12.Escape
Is the world less mundane than the reader's world, and yet complete, with enough details to make the reader want to escape to it?
13.Education
Are readers learning things they didn't know?
14.Setting
Does the world feel solid. It should be a setting that the reader sees in his mind as being a real world, as well as being an enjoyable world to be in. The reader should feel as if he is walking on the grass, eating the foods, etc.
15.HumanDepth: are true human emotions, or complex personalities being explored?
16.Theme
Does reader feel author is trying to say something important (without being preachy)? Are major issues being examined.

B: CHARACTERIZATION
To achieve most of the above, the readers have to have characters they care about, either loving them or hating them. To do so, characters first and foremost need at least one distinguishing character trait (and maybe a maximum of three).

Beyond that, they also need the following:
1. LikabilityCharacters cannot be bland: people readers don't care about. Readers have to find them attractive. A character's attractive because it is accomplishing reader's dreams, it is overcoming handicaps, it is funny, it thinks in a lively way, it deals well with a situation readers wonder about, it is nice to children and puppies, it is smarter than the average bear, it comes from an odd background or is doing odd work or hobbies. What are the character's interests?
2. IdentityCan readers tell who each character is by its speech, mannerisms, humor, intensity, intelligence, vanity, humility, kindness, sternness, morals, passions, the way others look at it, leadership, sensitivity, childishness, way of thinking, etc.
3. CharacterForceful, serving, exacting, or entertaining? Loud or quiet? Colorful or dull? Thinker or doer? Quick or slow? Smart or dumb? Physical or mental? Nice or mean? Happy or depressed? Masochist or Sadist? Oblivious or observant? Manipulator or manipulated? Likes kids and dogs? Nice to retarded? Nice to beggers? Curiosity priority.
4. BelievabilityAre characters people you might meet in the street?
5. AppearanceWhat's the character look like, sound like, smell like, and feel like (baby skin or lizard skin?) Posture.
6. FamilySpouse, kids, mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, pets, etc.
7. Clothes /
Possessions
How character dresses? What car? What type of house? Favorite toys.
8. ResumeWhat jobs? When? What skills? How long per job? Reasons for leaving? Mentors? Favorite jobs / bosses and why?
9. Hobbies /
Interests
Games character likes to play. Sports teams. Favorite music. Favorite colors. Breakfast cereal. Foods character can't stand. Food character loves. Favorite books. Favorite TV shows.
10.ReligionWhich one? How does the character feel about it? Prejudices against others? What rituals are participated in? Desire for religion in children?
11.BackgroundDoes reader feel he knows the character? What was the character doing on his 12th birthday? What scars does the character have and how did they happen? What recurring pains? What medications taken? How many pairs of shoes are in the closet? Is the closet neat or messy? Is the character punctual or always late? Does character listen to talk radio? What political parties? Has the character ever called a Congressman? In elementary school, was character a bully? get picked on? or defend kids from bullies? What animal identified with? How spouse was met? Other old and new relationships? How did the character start dating in school. Did the character enjoy junior high and high school? What racist or other types of persecution did the character experience, either against the character or in the character's presense and what was the character's reaction. When was the character born and what season does the character like best. Which parent the character's spouse's personality most resembles? Level of testosterone, PMS, feminine sensitivity, feminine intuition? Morning or evening person?

C: PLOT
A plot essentially is the question, "What happens?" Plots have to deal with something, usually striving for or against something. Typical plots involve "man vs. man," "man vs. self," or "man vs. nature." Examples, respectively, are "Batman vs. Joker," "To be or not to be," or "Locked in a room with a ticking bomb."

Three to seven subplots are necessary (more might be confusing, unless done extremely well), each of which should have the following:
1. BeginningSomething must happen to make clear to readers (not necessarily characters) what the goal is. The reader must have an idea on what achieving the goal means. The goal may be to survive till tomorrow, it may be to get the girl, to decide not to kill yourself, etc.
2. MiddleReader must feel that progress is being made at achieving the goal. There should probably be subgoals. There should be new obstacles. But some obstacles should be in the reader's mind at the beginning and the solving of them is the middle for the plot.
3. ClimaxThe point at which the most major goal or goals are achieved is the climax.
4. EndWhen all loose ends have been neatly tied up.

THEME
A book is considered merely escape unless it has some theme. Whether the author is trying to get a message across or just explore some heavy concepts (to be, killing your king, or not to be), all throughout the novel must be an intellectual idea, with every word of the novel leading to that idea.

STYLE
The language should not get in the way, but should be beautiful for those who look for it. Original, but unobtrusive, similes and metaphors are important. Language should be visual, but simple; e.g., Hemingway's "The horse smelled water." Keep sentences short, active voice, with powerful verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. And yet sentences should not be too short or boring in style. Style can also lend humor or lighten the tone of the novel. If the language or images are heavy, the novel is heavier.

1 comment:

paulsmum2001 said...

Bookmarked to re read later. Thank you for sharing.