Green Door | How to Write a Novel: Twelve Essential Components
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How to Write a Novel: Twelve Essential Components

Posted by Green Door in Creative Writing 24 Nov 2015

One of my most popular posts last month was ‘How to Write a Novel.’ This was basically a plug for a course of the same name that I teach for the Unthank School of Writing, and although enrolment is buoyant, I’m guessing that a lot of the hits were actually people looking for advice on how to write a novel. In that case, as November is National Novel Writing Month, here are a few free tips to get you started…

The focus of NaNoWriMo, as I understand it, is on motivation and completion, so the challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month. Now I am all for regular writing routines, and I don’t believe in muses, natural talent or writer’s block. That said, you can’t just hit it and hope. You know that line about life being that thing that happens when you’re making other plans? Novels are not like this. Banging stuff out off the top of your head is not writing a novel, and despite that initial rush of enthusiasm trying to free associate your way through a big project is much more likely to lead to the slush pile or the bottom drawer than the New York Times bestseller list. ‘Discovery Writing’ aside, which E.M. Forster rightly described as ‘introducing mysticism at the wrong stage in the process,’ you need some sort of a plan.

Be spontaneous by all means, but try to mediate this with a rough idea of where you’re going, otherwise, and trust me on this, you’ll end up just rambling or never finish. ‘Writer’s block’ is more about not knowing which scene you need to write next than some terrible psychological barrier. Would you set off on a journey with no idea of either route or conveyance and still expect to reach your destination? Did you ever go into an exam with no preparation or study and come out with an ‘A’? Thought not. Me neither. It is vitally important to just keep writing, but this’ll be a deal easier if you have a plan and a basic understanding of narrative structure. The word ‘narrative’ comes from the Latin verb narrare, ‘to tell,’ which is derived from the adjective gnarus, meaning ‘knowing’ or ‘skilled,’ so a ‘narrative’ is a telling by someone that knows what happened, and has the ability to tell it well. In a novel, the narrative can be usefully broken down into the following components. To write a novel, you will need…

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