Novel Writing #2: Moving Forward

Novel Writing #2: Moving Forward


When you first try your hand
at writing a chapter, you’re gonna be super overwhelmed,
or at least I know I was. It isn’t until you see that blank page
throwing shade at you that you realize what a massively
complicated beast a novel really is. There’s characters and plots
and settings and backstories, and none of these are gonna exist
unless you make it so. The natural response, of course,
is to spend hours going through baby names for your characters,
but if you’re serious about your novel, then sooner or later you’re gonna
have to make some miles. My name is Julian Tunru, I’m the author of
the Dav Iven historical fiction series, and this is the Nearly Complete Guide
to Writing Your Novel. Episode 2: moving forward. There’s one thing I wish someone had told
me when I first started off writing, and that is that nothing you decide
at this point is final. It’s tempting to be all finicky
and perfectionist when you first start off, but in the early stages of your novel
those traits are your mortal enemy. Novel writing isn’t so much building a house
as it is planting a tree. At this point in time, there’s no need to
know exactly what the end result will look like
or even what you’ll need to get there or whether you can afford a ballpit in your
basement. All you need, is one initial idea
to kickstart your writing; the proverbial seed in the dirt
that your story will grow out of. In my case, I’ve always been really into history. I was intrigued by the idea that
for every chapter in our history books, there’s millions of stories that were left
untold. So this was my seed –
something that I was interested in exploring. And before I’d even decided on this theme,
already in the back of my head that tree started growing. I realized my main character should be
someone that history might overlook; someone that in any other story
would probably be the sidekick but gets propelled into prominence anyway. Then that sidekick got a brother
to take care of and that brother got a job
and before I knew it I was well underway in going the distance. For you, that seed could be anything. It might be someone in your family,
or something you witnessed traveling, or some drunk discussion on what it would
be like if we all walked sideways. And more likely than not,
it’s whatever inspired you to to write a novel in the first place. Now again, it’s perfectly fine for you to
dismiss all of this at some point in the future,
but for now, use it as a departure point to set off on your journey. Now, as you start writing, sooner or later
you’ll find yourself at that most divisive of crossroads. On the one hand, there’s authors
who swear by meticulously outlining every aspect of their story,
and on the other hand, there’s those daring free spirits
that would rather just wing it. And there’s very valid arguments
to be made for both. Outlining allows you
to look at the big picture and make sure you arent’t just skipping
from one plotline to another. Winging it, on the other hand,
makes you a lot more flexible when inspiration strikes,
meaning your story will evolve more organically
and the whole thing will feel a lot less rigid. My advice to you would be
to simply do both – outline your story the best that you can,
then ignore it completely whenever you feel the need. This way, your story will
at least have some sort of backbone that you can work off of,
while leaving you free to flesh out the details as you move along. You’ll soon find yourself
gravitating towards either structured or flexible anyway,
which is actually an important step in finding your style as a writer. Whichever you choose though,
the rule of thumb here is that anything you write
should move the story forward. Generally, that means that either
something noteworthy happens or something about your characters
is revealed. This is of course a very
broad definition, and by no means do they have to be
a major plot twist or some grand reveal. The best advice I can give you
is to channel your insufferable six-year old self,
and ask the same question at every single turn:
why? Is your character some
unpopular high school girl? Well, why? What does it do for the story? Did her parents die when she was young? Why? Does she want to find the cure
for some deadly virus? Well, why; what drives her there? If your answer is that it’s something that
the reader needs to know, because it sets up your climax
or it helps them understand the character, then great, good on you. However, if at any point your answer is
“I don’t really know” or “it worked for my Toy Story fanfiction”
then scratch that bitch and don’t look back. The thing is, we all have a natural tendency
to draw from our own experiences. This can be our personal lives
or some book we read, but we seldom realize it because to us
they just ‘feel natural’. Still, most of our lives
are really not that special, and so these default settings
tend to be dull and unimaginative. As a writer, you have the power
to make anything happen, so think long and hard whether there’s
a better way to do what you’re doing. I promise you that nine times out of ten,
the answer will be a clear and resounding yes we can. And for the time being,
that’s really all you need to know to start moving forward. Again, nothing you write now is definitive,
and most of it will never even see the light of day. Because not too long from now,
when your nurturing finally starts paying of,
future you will take your little sapling and grow it into something much, much better.

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