I’ve decided to write a novel! But how do you do that?
To write a great story, writers are often told to write about what they know. Sometimes they are advised to write out, ahead of time, everything that is going to happen in the story. So, you have to know what’s going to happen before it does.
Caveat: My answers to these two questions are below. Although they’re only any good for me, feel free to play with them! Everyone has to develop his or her own creative process. Find out what works for you. I don’t want to wear your blouse and you’d hate to wear my sweater.
In creating a great story, must you confine yourself to what you think you know? No, I don’t think so!
After thirty years of law practice, I began to write a novel about a lawyer, Harry Jenkins in Conduct in Question. Once I had published that, I wrote two more novels with him as the star—Final Paradox and A Trial of One. Legal thrillers—which I definitely knew something about! But luckily, my practice was much quieter than Harry’s.
Next, I embarked on a new trilogy, The Trilogy of Remembrance, about a visisonary, landscape artist, Alexander Wainwright. Did I sketch or paint, sculpt or cut stained glass? No, I did not. But I had a life-long obsession with the visual arts and so how could it be that hard? I must know something! Once I had met my main character [Alexander], things seemed to fall into place quite nicely. Hopefully, he could tell me his story and show me around in his world.
But now Alexander, Harry and I seem to have come to a parting of ways. [Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me!] To explore any further, I need new characters. And not just that–I need an entirely new world in a brand-new universe!
Tall order! How do I do that? Who should my protagonist be? A librarian? A nurse or doctor? No, maybe I could create another creative soul? How about a musician? Although I’ve always really enjoyed music of many kinds, my knowledge of it is limited. Personally, I do not know any musicians and so, I’m not sure how they think or talk about their art or about life.
But I’m fascinated by the potential connection between one’s art created and one’s life and how it is lived. Interesting thought! How different would the story be if it were about a drummer in a rock band and a violinist in an orchestra? Art and life! A chicken and egg argument!
Can musicians be so very different from visual artists? Although I’ve never studied music beyond children’s piano lessons, I’m almost certain the musician in this novel will be a classical pianist striving to be a composer. Believe me! It will be light on technicalities.
But should my pianist be male or female? Try for something new? So far, all my protagonists have been male. Is it harder to write a story about a woman than a man?
To make the character interesting, I would need to consider what he or she thought about the world and her/his place in it. Did her thoughts and feelings on her music and life intersect and mingle? If so, how? To carry really interesting plots and characters, her art and music would need depth and complexity. She, as an individual, and her art would have to explore great themes such as self-inflicted cruelties of ambition or the complexities of friendship and love. Again, should my pianist be male or female?
Will it be an Organic creative process or a disciplined progress writing from beginning to end. If so, you aren’t creating an opportunity to let it “happen”.
When I talk about an organic approach, I mean starting with a scene [not necessarily the beginning scene] and following the characters along as you make up the story. This is after you’ve thought about these characters a lot. See what they have to say and what they do. What kind of voices do they have? Sometimes, I’ve pretended he or she is sitting down with me and we are just chatting. It’s like children making up imaginary playmates! You’d be surprised what comes up!
So how do I begin? First of all, I remind myself that I’m a writer and [particularly in The Trilogy of Remembrance] frequently engaged in questions or issues about creativity and inspiration. That certainly could be a theme.
I am really writing about the creative process—how does an artist begin? What does she go through to get a finished piece, novel, sonata or painting? What questions must he ask himself along the way? He or she will definitely have a personal life, so who are the most importan t influencers in his or her life and what big events shape the work? Does this future great pianist injure his hand? Or does she lose her mentor through a serious misunderstanding?
What age is my protagonist? Is the story from the perspective of an old man assessing his battles [and scars?] and accomplishments
See this sweet little girl enjoying her playing. Is she bold and outgoing awaiting the stage or is she young, inward focused and sensitive as she bravely starts out to tell her story?
Perhaps my protagonist is an elderly and attractive woman who has had a life with many conquests both on and off stage. She is also blessed with a very sharp memory and that may cause her difficulties! [I think I like this one!]
Will I tell the story from inside the main character’s head—first person or someone else telling it? Personally, I like to adopt the god POV [point of view] with some variations by moving from one character to another. We’ll talk more about POV later.
Maybe you could try making a long list of challenges and battles. Who stood in the way of what? Who came to help? What about a first love, that handsome young man? That’s a good story in itself.
She will have a first piano teacher—loved or hated—cruel or kind and encouraging? Will she appreciate her young student?
What about family? Neighbours? What challenges might there be? Teachers later on? Love life complications? Make a long list because these are your characters’ lives.
Will I tell the story from inside the main character’s head—first person or someone else telling it? Personally, I like to adopt the god POV with some variations.
Maybe you could try making a long list of challenges and battles. Who stood in the way of what? Who came to help? So, call me an organic list maker!
What about that “goofy” brother who might surprise us all and come to the rescue just in the nick of time.
That’s my answer to the question about whether you write only about what you know. You don’t or rather I don’t. I’ll bet you know much more than you think you do. Give yourself a chance to get it out there! However, on the one hand, I won’t likely ever write about a mathematician, but on the other, I can write about another erstwhile creative soul such as a music composer. The themes are often similar in any creative endeavor. By now, it’s obvious that I go with the organic and let the story grow from its seed as I write.
If you jump right in and start writing straight from beginning to end, I may miss out on all the fun. You deny yourself getting to really know your characters. As you learn more about them, you may change your plot a bit to develop another angle. The more you know about the them, probably you’ll like them even more and that’s good for both you and your reader.
NOTE: Here’s something I’ve just discovered which works for me. While I’ve been writing this article, I’ve been looking up photographs of people that might suit their role. In so doing, I find that all my ideas begin to expand to include things I, otherwise, would not have thought of. Call it research. In fact, here’s one for a plot and if not just for fun. This pianist is playing Beethoven for an elderly, sick elephant. This has to be good for at least one scene!
Right now, I’m spending time on some rearch. How can I find out about the lives of famous musicians and composers—lots of biographies. [Chopin, Bach, Schumann]. I need to know what they feel and think. Are there any special character traits I can ascribe to them that make them compose what they compose? Does their work affect the decisions they make in their lives? And on and on. My guess is that they are obsessed with creating music. They cannot NOT compose.
I could fill pages with questions that might challenge them every day. You’ll quickly learn from reading biographies that much more was going on in the artist’s life than music. How much does life affect the art produced? What thoughts, if any, about art create the decisions in her life? Also, I can listen to all sorts of music of the classical variety and wonder how the composer sees the world and what is rolling through her mind as she plays her part. True for other kinds of music. Does my protagonist have a favourite piece of music and why?
What other sources could there be? Maybe there are some online music clubs where I could meet musicians and discuss their work with them? If you have any ideas, please put them in the comment box below.
This is the first time I’ve had to create such a character, world or universe in unfamiliar territory. In the past, I’ve relied upon lawyers and my law practice and the many paintings I’ve thought about and loved. What other sources could there be for this story?
This has been my first step in organizing myself to write an entirely new novel, We all have our own methods which you just have to develop to suit yourself.
If you’d like to see mylists http://maryemartintrilogies.com/writing-novels-i-love-lists/just click here. As a writer, you don’t really know what influences you until you try some list making. Everybody has to develop a particular style that suits your goals and who you are. It’s like choosing a dress or a shirt. Does it look/feel right for me? List making might be a way of finding out.
In article 2, I’ll be thinking about developing characters and the point of view. But really, writing a novel is not very different from the way life itself unfolds.
Below you will see the seven novels I have written to date. They are available almost anywhere online including Amazon. Click the coins below for purchases. The Osgoode Trilogy was inspired by my many years of law practice about Harry Jenkins, a Toronto lawyer. The Trilogy of Remembrance about a famous landscape artist, Alexander Wainwright, was inspired by my life long love of art.
THE THREE COINS
All my seven novels [above] are easily obtained almost anywhere online including Amazon. The three coins below will take you there to Amazon. Please take a look. If you would like more information, please visit my website http://maryemartintrilogies.com
The Osgoode Trilogy
The Trilogy of Remembrance
The Wondrous Apothecary