In our March meeting, author Brian Yansky gave us an overview of how to write an entire novel. He covered a lot of material in one hour, but here are a few of the highlights.
Brian compared writing to learning martial arts. With both, you have to learn to do a lot of things at one time without thinking. It may seem impossible, but if you break down the craft of writing into individual elements, learn how to use those elements, and then execute them, it becomes manageable. Of course, it also takes a whole lot of practice before you can truly do all those things without thinking, but the impossible is possible.
Three important elements Brian focused on were: character, language, and story.
Character: A character must want something because this is what drives the story forward. You need to figure out not just what they want, but what they need as well. And unfortunately for you character, you need to make them suffer if you want to have a compelling story.
Language: Using the “right” words will give a specificity to your story that brings it to life in the mind of the reader. The more you show instead of tell a reader what’s going on, the more connected they feel to your character, which keeps them engaged in the story.
Story: Brian breaks this down into two parts: structure and plot.
Structure is all about scenes and a sense of progression through the narrative. What are the big questions and how are they answered throughout the book? Knowing your ending is important so you can design the story to move toward it.
Plot can vary depending on what type of story you’re writing, but what holds true for any genre is that you can’t stick with just one plot. Subplots bring dimension to a story. One thing to keep in mind as you add more subplots, be certain that each one supports the main plot and is satisfying on its own with a beginning, middle, and end.
A few final thoughts. Brian suggests that you allow yourself to have low expectations about your first draft. A first draft is a starting point so don’t worry about getting it right. Just as with learning martial arts, writing takes practice before all the elements of writing can be done without thinking. And revisions are a great place to practice the craft of writing.
Thank you Brian for offering your experiences in writing a novel. You gave us a lot of information that we can use as we practice the craft of writing.