Friday, October 12, 2018

Writing: How Does A Novel Get Started?

I thought it might be interesting to see the things that go into the first stages of a novel. I've often heard, "I have a great idea for a novel." But an idea is one thing. Putting flesh on those bones is another.

How do I do it? I start with a single concept. This may be the "log line" for the novel, and is often the opening line of the back cover copy for my work. For instance, here's the log line of one of my novels: "A gunman who has nothing to lose faces a doctor who could lose it all." Sound interesting? But how about putting something together.

I sketch out the flow of the novel. There's going to be a gunman in the emergency room, and the major person he's confronting is a doctor. But that's a scene, not a novel. So I have to figure out how and why this confrontation happens, how it is resolved, and what happens next?

To do all this, I have to populate the story. I assume my protagonist is going to be that doctor, but is the person holding the gun the antagonist, or simply one of the people involved. What lies behind this scene? What happens afterward? And who are the characters, both major and minor, who are involved in the story?

Now what stages along the way does the novel follow? Do I use the three act structure, the "pillars" of a novel, Vogler's hero's journey? And what happens to prevent the "sagging middle" against which writers are constantly warned? Finally, what's the event or scene that Bell calls a "knock-out ending?"

I won't say that all these decisions happen at once. Sometimes I have to go back after several false starts, at times rewriting up to 10,000 words, before I get the sense of who is involved and how they are going to act. But eventually I get a first draft of the novel that has sprung from a single idea. In this case, the idea came from the confrontation of a resident physician of my acquaintance and a man with a gun. You've seen how the idea is fleshed out, and I can tell you that the end result  differs from the inciting scene. It was a start, but there's a lot of work that follows.

Oh, and this is just the first draft. Three or more revisions will follow before this becomes a novel. And later there's always the thought of, "I wonder if it would be better this way?" Like poems, novels are not really finished, just abandoned.

So what do you think? Still want to write that novel? Go to it. It's worth the effort.

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4 comments:

Patricia Bradley said...

Your paragraph that begins "Oh, and do you think..." That's why I don't read my books once they come out. :-) Thanks for showing how you do it. I'm still struggling with my current WIP!

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, I've never, never, never gone back and read a book once I published it, although I have on occasion gone back to check an error that someone pointed out (and they will find them). Thanks for your comment.

Priscilla Bettis said...

I am going through this process right now! (I'm rather excited, can ya tell?) I have the skeleton outline and a synopsis. Now I'm putting together a more detailed outline to be completed in time for NaNoWriMo. Today I worked on character sketches. The very beginning, a few months ago, started just as you described.

Richard Mabry said...

Priscilla, good for you. Stay with it.