It’s been your dream to write a novel for many years. Perhaps you’ve started to write, and got stuck. Or maybe you’re waiting for the happy day when you get the perfect idea for a novel which will be an instant bestseller.
Here’s a secret: every published novelist knows that there’s only one “secret” you need if you want to write a novel.
Here it is…
To write a novel, sit down and start writing
This sounds too easy — it is really that simple?
Yes, it is, I promise you. The only difference between you and the author who writes a book a year — or several books a year — is that the author sits down at his computer and writes. Whether he has an idea, or not. (And usually he doesn’t. :-))
You don’t need “ideas”. What you need is a character, and questions.
Think about someone you know, or a character you remember from a book you read, or a TV show, or movie. Now describe that person, with an adjective, and a noun.
After a moment, you remember a character from a TV show. She’s a sassy detective. Or maybe she’s a terrified mother. Maybe you choose a character who’s a cunning billionaire.
All done? OK — our questions. 🙂
1. “Tell me about yourself.”
This is where your book journal comes in handy. I start a book journal for each new novel I write, but you don’t need a journal. You can grab a piece of paper, or open a new computer file.
Write down your adjective and noun, and the question.
Then write down what your character tells you. Let’s say your adjective and noun are: disappointed day trader.
You write: “tell me about yourself.”
He tells you (you write):
“I live in a big house on the water. I have everything I ever wanted. I’m my own boss, I have a great business, with a great house, and an amazing car. But…” and so on, and so forth.
Just write down what your character tells you.
2. “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?”
After your character stops speaking, ask him the next question — “what’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?”
Again, as before, write down the question, and the answer.
“The worst thing that ever happened to me is the day I came home, and discovered that the house was empty. My wife packed up our daughter, all the furniture, and just left.”
Your character goes silent.
Whenever your character stops “speaking”, ask another question. Your question might be:
- “Why did she do that?”
- “Tell me about your wife.”
- “Where are they now?”
Here’s an important tip: your character interview gives you your character’s back story. You’ll discover who your character is, and what his greatest fear is. Your story (novel, novella, or short story) starts after the incidents which he tells you.
You need to know his greatest fear, so that you can ensure that your character grows. In your story, you’ll make your character face his greatest fear.
3. “What do you most want?”
As you did before, write down the question, and your character’s response. For example, perhaps your day trader tells you that he wants to take over Company X. However, as the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
He wants to own Company X, but your story starts when he gets a call from a lawyer, telling him that he’s now responsible for a four-year-old girl. She’s his child. The child’s mother — a woman with whom he had a brief affair — has died.
Can you see how your questions have given you the glimmer of not only a character, but also a plot?
4. “What’s stopping you from getting that?”
Your next question is: “What’s stopping you from getting that?”
Write down his answer. He tells you that he’s made an offer for Company X, but the board of directors… etc.
None of the saga of your day trader and “Company X” material will be part of the story you’ll tell in your novel, but you need to know what goals and plans your character has.
Think about novels you started to read, and then stopped. Often you stop reading because a character doesn’t seem real to you. Everyone has hopes, goals, and plans. Cardboard cutout characters are dragged through a paint-by-numbers plot and never seem real.
Knowing what your character wants, and why he can’t get it, helps you to make your character real, not only to readers, but also to yourself. “Real” characters come alive on the page.
Start today: write a novel with these four questions
Try it yourself. You don’t need an hour; ten minutes will do.
Grab a sheet of paper, choose an adjective and a noun, and write down the first question. Keep writing.
And there you are — you’ve started the novel you always wanted to write. 🙂