Writing is easy. Writing a novel is difficult. Writing a novel that readers will enjoy reading and recommend to others is very difficult.
I write both nonfiction books and articles, and fiction novels and short stories. Among the different types of professional writing that I do, writing novels is the most difficult, laborious, and rewarding. For me, composing nonfiction is primarily a left-brain activity. It involves researching and compiling information. Those materials are used along with analysis and opinion to fashion a book or article.
Writing fiction is an entirely different animal. For me, it involves the right side of my brain where I get to play in my imagination developing characters and a plot, and to exercise my creativity. I want the characters to have depth and be relatable and memorable. I want the plot to have unexpected twists and turns and engage readers so much that they find the story hard to put down.
Interesting stories have interesting characters who have backstories that shape who they are and how they behave. Plots need to have subplots and the author must be mindful of pacing and how to develop and tell the story without it dragging or going too fast. Character arcs, story arcs, narrative structure, exposition, etc. are all important elements that must be considered when writing a novel. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun for me as a novelist.
It starts with an idea. Writers find inspiration for things to write about from many different sources. Taking that idea and developing a story is one challenge. Having a story to tell is relatively easy. Telling that story in a way that readers find compelling is a much bigger challenge.
I can illustrate this with a simple story:
Johnny’s been shy almost his whole life. He thinks the new girl in class is cute and would like to talk to her. But even the thought of striking up a conversation leaves him feeling anxious and paralyzed.
Yes, I know I am using a stereotypical “shy boy” example. Stereotypes have their place in writing but must be used thoughtfully. I think this is a rather boring story so far. What if I rewrite it as:
Ever since he sat by the new girl on the school bus in first grade, Johnny couldn’t bring himself to start a conversation. That was five years ago, and he still gets beet red remembering how she made fun of his thick glasses and freckles. This new girl looked so cute. He didn’t even know her name. Johnny fought back mounting anxiety and decided to moisten his dry mouth at the water fountain. Could he force himself to meet her?
This seems a little more interesting. Notice I threw in some backstory and character details and action elements such as: fought back, moisten dry mouth, force himself.
The example is entirely narrative exposition. You can tell a story using dialogue elements as well.
Johnny spied the new girl as he got on the school bus and grabbed the empty seat next to her.
“Hi, I’m Johnny.”
She glared at him. “Hey, freckle boy. Without those thick glasses you probably can’t even see.”
Recalling that conversation, even five years later, left him tongue tied. How could he approach the mysterious girl standing alone?
She’s cute. He thought to himself. Good thing I’m wearing my contacts. My mouth’s getting dry just thinking about what I might say. Better get a sip of water first.
As Johnny straightened from leaning over the fountain, he felt a presence behind him. He whirled around as he wiped the last bit of water from the corner of his mouth. He stopped mid-gulp.
OMG, it’s her! What should I do? Fear cemented his feet to the gym floor.
“Uhh…err…Hi!” He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked down, not daring to make eye contact.
This story is getting more interesting. Notice how the use of both internal dialogue, where Johnny is thinking to himself, and conversational dialogue help to tell the story in a way that breaks up the narrative exposition elements. Notice also that I left on a mini cliffhanger. What happens next?
You can see how the same basic story can be told in different ways. Now, what if I threw you a curve ball? What if the next part of the story went as follows:
She spoke…if you could call it that. More of a deep, almost barking growl.
“I sensed you looking at me.” Johnny saw her nostrils flair. “You smell…special.”
Wolf blood! She must have wolf blood! Run! But Johnny’s paralyzed muscles refused to obey.
You see how an unexpected plot twist not only changed the characters and story but hopefully provided some momentary delight to you as a reader. What started as a mundane story about a shy boy has developed into something that isn’t boring and mundane at all.
I’ve used this example to help illustrate how having a story to tell and telling the story in a way that engages readers represent two of the challenges novelists must deal with. How to use dialogue and how to reveal story details are all part of the process in writing a novel.
Forged in Fire is a popular show where bladesmiths compete to forge weapons. It provides a useful metaphor to crafting a novel. Instead of the raw material of steel that needs to be forged using heat and tempering, then hammered and sharpened, novelists use words. We craft and shape these into sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters. Much as the bladesmith adds a handle and guard to fashion something unique, we embellish and adorn our wordsmithing with our own particular flair and style. Whether it’s forging a blade or a novel, one thing both crafts have in common is the application of smithing skills that involve lots of hard work and sweat be it physical or mental. When finished, both artisans can feel a sense of accomplishment about what they have created.
Now, back to my story…
He is the creator and narrator/host of a podcast series, Podfobler Productions.
His non-fiction and his workshops focus on personal growth and transformation, especially as pertains to health and wellness. His fiction includes social messaging intended to get the reader engaged in thought provoking themes.
Dr. Acquista has a longstanding interest in consciousness studies, is a student of Integral Theory, and strives to do his part to make our planet a wee bit better. He lives with his wife in Florida. He is a member of the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, the Florida Writers Association, Writers Co-op, and is a Knight of the Sci-Fi Roundtable.
Thank you Dr Acquista for sharing your time and talent with Word Mongery and Musings 🙂