The idea for your novel doesn't often come to you whole and complete. If you're writing historical fiction then it may do, as mine did for This Human Season which is set in Northern Ireland in 1980 and 1981. That came to me on the platform of Clapham North tube station in 2003. I watched a few trains come and go as it dawned on me. But my other three novels came to life in stages.
Usually, the final novel is the result of an idea that has grown and acquired more substance like the proverbial rolling stone.
It seems to me though that there are elements to the idea which remain in place through the multiple drafts you will write. The details shift and change as you feel for what's most moving, most provoking, most important. A novel is a long struggle and it's good, necessary even, to get a first draft down in a season as we do in The Ninety Day Novel course. But you will return to it at second draft and amend it as new realities and truths...
'There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately
, no one knows what they are.'
There are no rules, only tools.
You will find tools at The Novelry. Use them, try them, pick them up, put them down. Do not consider them rules. I can't abide rules, and I guess you can't or you probably wouldn't be writing.
There is no formula. Did you know that some writers' books can stay unborn, in their amniotic sac of rules and regulations, attached to the umbilical spreadsheet for years? It's an awful condition and one we can't abide at The Novelry where we get novels done.
'I don’t think there are any universal rules. I really don’t. We each make our own rules, and we stick to our rules and we abide by them, but you know rules are made to be broken. … [If] any rule you hear from one writer doesn’t work for you, disregard it completely. Break it. Do what you want to do. I have my own rules that I follow, but...
I see breakthroughs weekly in my writers' work and I thought I'd share some of the signs with you of a step-change in the quality of the work, from good to bloody brilliant. (Next stop publication!)
1. Hard work made harder. A writer has a work emergency or an illness and decides to work harder. Bingo, breakthrough. No hard work ever goes unrewarded when it comes to the craft of writing. A writer goes to extraordinary lengths, gets tired, loses patience with herself and cuts to the chase in her prose, and lo and behold we have writing worth reading, and then some. Sometimes you have to slog it. That first chapter, though! I don't exaggerate when I say to you I rewrite mine 1000 times. It can seem bloody-minded at times. Moving words in and out. You worry it will lose its liveliness. It doesn't. You cut the pretty bits. Someone's foot moves in a reflexive action off-camera, and you're on it. Your eyes are all over the scene suddenly. Write on, but return again and again to each...
'The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!'
If you're new to us, welcome to The Novelry.
This a place where words are important and serve the story, and we are story-telling animals. We live, breathe and create stories every second of every day. That's what the mind likes to do - it creates connections all the time between past experience and predicts based on not only experience but its vast library of stories, either a tragedy or a happy ending, depending on your mood or inclination.
The Novelry is a place where we make novels. Together. Side by side.
Part factory, part library, part quiet study, and plenty of revelry. Sometimes we come together, brawny-armed, dark-hearted and vocal and you can hear almost the shouting from the workshop floor at our members' group online. But we live in an era where technology allows us to work quietly too,...
Are you a plotter or a pantser? I'm both. I rely on the 'divine write' but I also have a cunning plan up my sleeve. Read on!
I have this crazy notion that I used to write novels without planning them overly, that I was guided like some seer, by the character and their predicament and the story unfolded before me as I sat down to write it.
That's about 10% true.
I probably did write my first two unpublished novels that way; the ones in the drawer.
I was obliged to plan my first novel because I had a few daft runs at it to work from.
My second novel was planned with military oversight, I had the theme of the thing, a key scene, and then I worked out the story, had a pinboard with places and characters and spent close to a year researching and writing to the programme (plot) I'd set myself.
Fiction is not mathematics. Yet, when we work at a draft a number of times it starts to feel that way. We write a novel step by step the first time, then we go over it at second draft to check how each chapter serves the story, each paragraph, each sentence, we look at how one thing leads to another and how they add up. Yes, this is how to write a novel, but no it is not everything. Sometimes addition can become subtraction.
You have to be really careful not to lose the mystery, those non-linear lines in your fiction which defy logic. These are the curious sentences whispered to you as you fall in and out of dreams and daydreams. They are the very soul of the novel.
With my first novel, I had a sentence which haunted me and it was really the 'x' that marked the treasure for me writing that novel 'Becoming Strangers'. That sentence was 'I am coming to you for help, I don't know why.'
I set it in a dream sequence in which my hero, who is dying of cancer, sees...
There comes a time when every writer has to face the awful thought that they may have to kill their manuscript.
“Often when I sat down to work,” wrote Michael Chabon about a novel he ditched after five years of work. “I would feel a cold hand take hold of something inside my belly and refuse to let go. It was the Hand of Dread. I ought to have heeded its grasp.”
It's hard to be sure for a while, then when it becomes clear, axing that book feels like a release.
Nothing is ever lost. You learn, you get better. Sometimes, as with the plot a novel, you have to go through a few ordeals to learn to turn and face the enemy. The enemy, in novels and life, is so often internal. But usually, there's a blind spot. Clarity, vision, can come a little later than you'd like.
If you have more than a niggling feeling that something's wrong with your novel, if you're worried it's not showing any signs of life, here are some clues...
I'm delighted to announce the publication of our member's novel - The Light Between Us by Katie Khan - which scored a five star review in Heat and is romping up the fiction charts.
'A bold new talent' says Matt Haig.
Published by Penguin's imprint Transworld this month, Katie began writing her novel with The Novelry in August last year.
As Katie said in her speech at the book's launch party at the Owl Bookshop last night - she was nervous about the 'difficult second album' but found it all came together. She thanked her family and friends and agent for support and has very sweetly thanked The Novelry in her acknowledgements.
A writer needs a solid daily process, inspiration, encouragement and support.
Katie has a big day job, and writes bold and inspiring novels. You too can write like Katie - make sure you get the support you need!
The steps to becoming a published author are simple, but precise.
If you love reading and would love to raise your writing game to...
That was The Great Gatsby, which Fitzgerald began in the wake of wild times had with his wife Zelda, their friends, and total strangers in New York City and on Long Island in 1922. Fitzgerald wrote steadily through 1923, and had a first draft of the novel finished by April 1924.
'Trimalchio' was the title of the finished novel, which he submitted to his publisher, Max Perkins, in October 1924.
Maxwell Perkins enthused about the novel's glamour, (you can read their exchange of letters below) but was uncertain about the way Gatsby's character was revealed.
In 1925 Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, spent six weeks in Rome and on Capri, where Fitzgerald revised the book to meet Perkins's recommendations and in April of 1925, six months after the initial draft had been sent, The Great Gatsby as we now know it was published.
The Great Gatsby...
The modern novel, when it's great, turns these sad old tricks beloved of its forbears.
When I was reading Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends, I was struck by the name of the male character, the romantic hero, 'Nick Conway'.
I thought - 'Nick Carraway'?
You will know that is the name of the narrator of The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald, and when I started to compare those two books, I began to think about the prose and structure of both side by side. Then I began to compare the roles of the characters in the great classic Gatsby with Conversations with Friends. In Gatsby, Nick Carraway observes the romantic hero, admires him and his beloved Daisy. In Conversations with Friends, the narrator Frances observes and admires most of all Bobbi, who has no love object. This little matter creates a bit of a dead-end in the structure of the book; it turns out on closer inspection. Bobbi is self-sufficient in a way I guess many of us would wish our...