So I had just finished writing half a novel in a month (50,000 words!), and after an honest critique I had to face an uncomfortable truth: it wasn’t really a novel. I had a choice to make. I could either wallow in self-pity, go back to making it a video game, or start educating myself on just what a novel really is.
After some wallowing, I decided I didn’t want this story to be a game. I wanted it to be a book. So the education began.
I’m a fairly adept writer. I don’t say that to sound arrogant, I know I’m far from a great writer, but I also know that this is a talent I have had for a long time. If you peruse my site, you’ll see I’ve been writing for over ten years. Never published, mind you, but that’s only because I’ve never tried yet. I’m man enough to admit when I don’t know something, though, and I was faced with something I did not know: what makes a novel good enough that people will buy it?
I’ll be creating a list of resources soon so that people can see all the things I’ve read up on over the last year. For now, I’ll list just three things that had a major impact on shapping my novel’s story.
First, I had to boil the whole thing down to a protagonist who wants something, and give the story a theme. My first attempt had a protagonist, sure, but he was just thrown into the middle of saving the world because I, the writer, made it happen that way. Fine for a video game, not really believable for a novel. So I searched my heart, decided on the “big picture” story I wanted to tell, and I found my theme. From there, I used that theme to drive the motivations of my main character so that he had a reason for doing the things he did. Every obstacle in his way equaled a scene of action, and those scenes together formed a plot.
Second, I had to structure that plot. For this, I found the Ten Scene Tool from The Writer’s Little Helper to be an excellent resource. The general idea of this tool is to create rising and falling tension, a point of no return, a climax and a resolution, and break them down into ten key scenes. The novel only has ten scenes? Of course not, but it has ten really important ones, and they form the skeleton of the story. Everything else built around them, filled in the gaps so to speak.
Third, I needed some guidance from a master. To that end, I read Stephen King’s On Writing. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to write. Not only is it an encouraging read, he is refreshingly honest about what it takes to write in a way that people like to read today.
As I said, there were a lot of things I looked at, but these three were essential. Another final piece I found everywhere I searched was, “Finish it.” I had to resist going back to the first half and begin editing. I made myself write another 60,000 words before ever looking at the first 50,000 again. It took me 8 months, but I’m glad I did that way. Now I could look at my huge document and say, “alright, draft one is done. I did it. I really wrote a novel.” It was a great accomplishment, and those of you who have done it know the feeling.
NOW, I had to piece together two halves of a book and make sure they told a coherent story. Oh what fun.
…Continued in part four…