How I ‘rit’ me story.
When my first novel ‘Minology – The Curious Secret Of Central Head’ was published in February this year I was understandably over the moon. And it was something that came as much of a surprise to me as it did to everyone else. After the initial congratulations from friends and family people began to ask me how I did it. The types of questions that most people were asking me were things like, ‘How did you go about starting it?’, ‘Did you always know what you wanted to do with it?’ and ‘Did you plan it all out at the beginning?’ ‘Were did you get all your ideas from?’
My response to these questions was generally, ‘I don’t really know, I just sort of did it.’ Not very helpful, I’m sure you’ll agree but that is how it happened, nevertheless. But it is now six months down the line so after thinking about this an awful lot and especially as I’ve since written another book, I shall try to answer some of those questions if I can.
There are plenty of books and websites out there which claim to tell you how to write a novel. Some of these are catered towards the needs of certain individuals, i.e. the part-time writer, or the weekend writer or even the holiday writer. All of which is good advice and who am I to say otherwise? I am no expert just because I have had a novel published and I don’t think I will ever be an expert in these matters, I’m not sure that anybody is. But there are rules to writing apparently and some like to stick to those rules and some don’t. I am one of those who doesn’t stick to those rules, not because I want to be rebellious against any form of system and break down the doors of conformity as any self-respecting anarchist should, but because I wasn’t aware that they existed. It wasn’t until I had finished my first novel that I began to find out that they were out there.
Well that’s a bit late then, isn’t it? I hear you say and you would be right in saying it. It’s not as if I can go back and change anything now anyway, it’s out there in print and on the bookshelves. What’s there is there and anyone reading it for the first time will undoubtedly judge my prowess as a writer from their own opinion of it. That is something that I can’t do anything about.
But it is true that I didn’t really know what I was doing until I’d finished it. Not a formula that will work for everyone, no, but it certainly worked for me the first time around. At least I hope it did? That’s now up to you to decide, ultimately.
I suppose the most important rule of all is one that I found out afterwards. It’s a pretty simple rule really and one which makes an awful lot of sense. The rule is that you have to believe in what you have written otherwise what’s the point? If you don’t believe in it then why should anybody else commit a few weeks of their lives and eight pounds ninety-nine of their hard earned cash into reading it? This rule is the most important in my opinion, and one which should never be broken. I did believe in my novel and I still do. I also believed in that rule, even though I didn’t know it existed at the time, and I still believe in it now.
Another very important rule when it comes to writing is structure. Now structuring a novel is also something which most of the books will tell you that you have to get right. You have to know from the start where you want the book to go. A beginning, a middle and an end, preferably with a twist. Personally, I didn’t have a beginning, a middle or an end when I started writing. I just wrote. It was only when I had got to around 60,000 words that I thought that I should perhaps come up with a plan of how I was going to end it. Like I said earlier on, I am no expert here and I’m not saying that this is the right or the wrong way to do it, but it did work for me.
Out of the three, however, I suppose I did have a middle. Well, sort of a middle. I always knew that there would be an event in the middle of the story where I could have an interval. End of act one.
‘Act one? This is a book, not a play,’ you’re probably thinking right about now. And again you would be absolutely correct.
But when I started writing it I did want it to be a play, or more specifically a musical and in musicals you always have to have a big number at the end of act one. This is also a rule and one which to my knowledge has never been broken. So I guess I was always aiming for a big event to take place somewhere towards the middle of the story. It would be the big musical number to close the first act and leave everyone humming the catchy tune while they queued up at the bar for hideously over-priced drinks.
A quick note here just to say that in my day job I do actually work in the theatre. I build things, scenery to be more specific. And it is during my day job that I carefully consider and plan anything which has to be constructed. I can’t just make things up as I go along or it could be disastrous. Things have to fit together in the theatre or the show is lost. A piece of scenery has to be broken down into its component parts and put together in such a way that it can’t go wrong. It needs to fit together with all of the other parts of the set in order to work. It has to be planned out meticulously.
Now there are a lot of similarities here when it comes to writing a novel, you may think. And if you were to read the books and obey the writing rules then you could argue that planning out a book is exactly like planning a theatre set and again you would be right. Which is all the more baffling to me that I didn’t do it like that and probably even more baffling to the students that I teach set building to. In my line of work you can’t just make it up as you go along but that’s exactly what I did when I wrote my debut novel.
I just typed. I just typed whatever came into my head. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up with the things that were flowing out of my brain because I couldn’t type fast enough. I am a two finger typist. I can’t use anything other than my two trusty index fingers to do my work for me. This does slow me down, yes, but I am getting quicker the more I practise. I also can’t use the mouse pad on a lap-top either. I have to plug in a separate mouse when I’m working with a lap-top. Either that or work on a pc instead. My first novel was written entirely on a pc in my man cave and it is only recently that I have got myself a lap-top to work on. My second novel was written on a mixture of the two. And I have to have a table to work on, space for my notebooks, a mouse pad and a coaster to put my mug of tea on. I am a bit O.C.D. when it comes to things like that and again you would think that because of this I would adhere to the principal of planning everything out in detail before I start but I can’t do that yet. I wish that I could, but I just can’t. And I am not a fluffy green duck with big eyes and a hand up my arse either! And on that note, I will leave it here for now as I know everybody will be trying to get ‘I wish I could fly’ out of their heads! The next blog will focus on some examples of how I write dialogue.