Don't Give Up on That Novel

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Don't Give Up on That Novel

A fictional letter from Winston Churchill

I can understand you wanting to give up on writing your novel. If you have taken it seriously and followed creative writing courses, you will have plenty of information on planning and writing a novel. Too much information, probably.

You have probably developed a plot arc. There is no unanimity about how many points there should be in a plot arc. After all, people have been discussing how to shape stories since Aristotle. However, most plot arcs contain between seven and nine points. You may have changed your plot arc many times and know it by heart. Lets suppose it begins by introducing a main character and giving him or her a reason to act. You might call this an initiating incident. Of course, things start going wrong and your hero or heroine has to change course. This is their first reversal. You develop the story in another direction, with additional characters and situations, until you reach a midpoint. However, your main character gets into further trouble, which is their second reversal, and they stumble to their lowest point. Their struggles continue until they reach a climax. By the end of the story, your character has arrived at something like peace - a resolution. Are you happy with your plot arc?

You may also know everything about your characters. Not only should you know their height and the colour of their eyes, but also where they were born and how well they got on with their parents. You know what they like to eat and drink, how they dress and how much money they have to spend. You know their attitudes to religion and politics and whether they would break the law to achieve what they want. You need to know how educated they are and, if you give your character a specialist subject like nuclear physics, you need to know something about it. Of course, your characters don't have to be likeable but, if you create a villain, he or she has to be plausible. You might draw on your knowledge of friends and family, but you don't want to create a character who resembles, say, your boss so closely that he sues you for libel! Character development is interesting because, in real life, people change over time. So you don't want your characters to be inconsistent, but you may allow for growth. Have you done all that?

Of course, plot and characters are not your only worry. You may need to do research. You may have set your novel in a time and place which you know well. On the other hand, you might be ambitious and decide to set your novel in South America at the time of the Conquistadores. That will necessitate a great deal of research and a command of Spanish. On the other hand, no-one is going to write to you saying that you got some detail wrong!

You will also need to decide what point of view you want to use. If your main character is the centre of the action, you might want to tell the story from his or her point of view. Remember, however, that this is limiting. The only way you can describe an event which your heroine doesn't experience herself, is by another character telling her about it. You could, on the other hand, decide to play God, and describe all the events of the story from a lofty vantage point. Writers like Dickens did this, but the style has rather gone out of fashion. Or you might write in what is known as third person limited point of view. So, you call your hero 'he' and follow his actions. You could also follow your heroine's point of view, but if you have too many points of view, your story could get confusing!

By the time you have developed your plot and your characters, done some research and decided on your point of view, it is time to do some writing. You write a first few chapters, read it through and decide it's rubbish. At this point, you may be tempted to give up. Don't! You are in danger of failing to see the wood for the trees. Many writers have discovered the most important part of writing is rewriting. It's at the rewriting stage that you really get to know your characters, and your plot will grow and take on a new life of its own. Don't worry too much about the technicalities; just get something down. It's at this point that you become a writer.

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