Writing a Novel
When You Understand How
Every writer dreams of someday writing a novel; and not just any novel but "The Great American Novel". Or if you live somewhere beside the USA substitute the word "American" for the country of your choice. The point is, writing the great (pick a country) novel is a universal ambition.
We all have dreams of writing that one killer novel and becoming rich and famous.
But there's a problem.
No one ever taught you how to go about "writing a novel" let alone a "great" one.
Well that's no problem, you think, because you've been reading novels, watching movies, and TV your whole life - it can't be that hard. Besides you've written some poems maybe a short story of two and your friends and relatives are always saying how they like your writing...
Then here's the clincher - you have an idea for a story that you're sure will be a blockbusting bestseller, etc., and you can already envision it as a movie on the big screen.
Don't worry I'm not going to bust your bubble. Dreams are a good thing. In fact they are vital, for when we've lost our ability to dream (and the bigger the better) then we might as well cash in our chips. For without the pursuit of those dreams what's the point in living?
So, I'm not going to tell you that you can't do it or that it can't be done.
Quite the contrary. I know it can be done and that you can do it. Writing a novel is not rocket science. However, I must tell you that there is some work involved and it's probably not the kind of work you're expecting.
One has to learn how to write.
Yea, there's that nasty word "learn".
Afraid it's true. You see, writers are not born, they are made. And the very vast majority of them were, and continue to be, self-made. Which means; they did not learn how to write at some collage, or school. In fact most of the famous ones were dropouts.
And now for some sobering facts.
In 2007 there were about 17.5 million manuscripts submitted to publishers. Of that only 175,000 were published. Of the books published annually only about 20% or 35,000 manage to break even. Meaning they sold enough copies to cover their costs of publishing and distribution. And only about 500 manage to get on a best seller list for at least one day.
I'm speaking of numbers for the USA. Other countries may vary but I suspect the ratios are similar.
One more chilling fact about writing a novel. Then I'll give you some good advice for pursuing and even accomplishing that dream. The dream of writing The Great American novel you have swirling around in your head.
The 17.5 million manuscripts that were submitted - those are only the ones that were finished, and submitted.
Millions more were started but never finished. And millions were finished but never submitted. So you see the dream is shared by everyone that ever put pen to paper.
But there's a problem...
Your teachers never taught you how to "write a novel".
Oh yes, you learned to read. But reading a novel and writing a novel are as different as night and day.
They are as different as riding in a car and driving one, living in a house and building one, watching a movie and making one or being a kid and raising one.
The vast majority of aspiring writers fail because they grossly underestimate the effort required.
And to make matters worse; they put all their effort into the wrong end of the equation.
What do I mean by that?
Writing isn't one single activity but at least two.
Because you have to have a story, before you can tell a story.
Before you can tell a story, you must first have a story to tell.
Writing is the TELLING part, or more appropriately what I refer to as "Story Composition".
And for the composition to be successful, some planning must be done first.
Or one can subscribe to the school of writing that believes, "writing is re-writing".
There are three problems with the "writing is re-writing" idea.
- It quickly turns writing a novel into re-re-re-re-re-writing that same novel.... over and over again with no end in sight. Until the writer just gets sick of the whole thing and abandons the manuscript, and
- It wastes so much of the writers time that he's lucky to finish one manuscript every two or more years. Which is not enough volume to make a living as a novelist, and
- Anything that is re-re-re-re-re-written is never as good as it could have and should have been if simply written right in the first place.
And to point out the absolute absurdity of re-re-re-re-re-writing consider this simple fact; nothing else is created that way.
Engineers don't re-re-re-re-re-build bridges, carpenters don't re-re-re-re-re-build houses, cooks don't re-re-re-re-re-cook your meals, dentists don't re-re-re-re-re-repair your same tooth, etc., etc.
Everyone strives to "do it right in the first place". We would run from anyone that advised us to revisit the same Doctor that screwed up our heart transplant the first time.
So, why are writers "expected" even advised to re-re-re-re-re-write their work, in fact even told that this is "normal"?
Pretty silly idea if you take even a second to think about it.
But there is a better way for writing a novel; that is actually simpler, faster and it produces a far better novel.
I call it "The Story Engine" and it starts with these 4 steps.
- Story Conception
- Story Design
- Story Research
- Story Composition
As you can see "Story Composition" is step number 4. That's the "story-telling" part of the process.
By the time you've completed steps 1-3 you have a story to tell. Meaning, you know what the story is and you know exactly how to go about telling it.
You see, a story must be Conceived, Designed and Researched BEFORE it can be effectively Composed or TOLD.
Each of the above are individual processes; collectively they all add up to one giant process which I call "The Story Engine".
You can find out more about "The Story Engine" here.
The other thing you need to understand about writing a novel is, story structure. You must understand the structure of long format stories before you can write a good one (let alone a great one).
Yes, novels have structure.
But it's not the 3-Act structure you may have heard of, there's a bit more to it than that.
The long format story (novels or screenplays) looks like this:
- First Incident
- Second Incident
The above are the 5 Movements of a long format story. And each movement performs a specific function in terms of moving the story along and fulfilling its Premise.
There's that other important word "premise" that you'll also want to become failure with.
It's the spine, backbone, and unifying thread that determines the entire Story Design.
Obviously there's a great deal more to know about writing a novel but the above are the key concepts that you need to get started.
You'll find a great more about writing a novel on this web site.
So, take some time and look around.
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