So, you have a story you want to tell. You’ve been thinking about it for years. It would make a perfect novel. When you finally get round to putting it down on paper, you’ll know exactly what the characters are like, you’ll know how they interact, and you’ll already know how it ends. All that’s required is the time needed to sit down and write it. Plus motivation and lack of distractions.
But is your novel really as well planned as you think? Are you sure you understand your characters, let alone how they interact with one another? Is that ending really credible? Have you ever thought about the structure of your story? Do you understand how story structure works? If you’ve never written a story, let alone a novel, you’re already in trouble.
When you finally write your story, you might force your characters to do exactly what you’ve imagined all those years, forgetting that characters on the page must be organic. They must be natural and credible and as close to real people as it’s possible to get. If you turn them into puppets, performing at your will, readers will know, and they will lose interest.
And those plot twists might not work out the way you thought. Perhaps they happen too early, or too late. And when you finally show your story to others, the ending doesn’t work at all. But if you’ve spent years imagining all the details in your head, the danger is you’re so attached to your unwritten ideal of a novel that you won’t make any compromises.
The characters, the locations, and the plot must be just so. It’s what you’ve planned. You thought it out. You thought about it on your way to work, soaking in the bath, or lying in bed at night. And when you finally write your story, then show it to others, you might resist the best of advice. Because you have an ideal story in your head, which is ideal to you, which plays out like a film, except that you don’t really understand how films are structured either.
Don’t take too long to start your novel
The purpose of this blog post is to warn you not to spend too much time thinking about your story. The longer you leave it, the harder it can be to make the sacrifices necessary to bring it into the world in a decent shape.
If you insist that the ending must be so because that’s what you planned all those years ago, you’ve already lost. Endings should be a natural consequence of the plot and characterisation, the final domino falling into place. With novels, things rarely go to plan. Those characters you thought would get on, only do so because you force them to. It’s perfectly clear to any reader that they’re incompatible and their relationship makes no sense. The ending comes out of the blue because you didn’t want your readers to guess the twist, and you never learned about foreshadowing. Meanwhile, your poor beta readers think the twist makes no sense.
There’s no point creating the perfect novel in your head, that book you’ll write one day… you know, that day when you finally have the time. The longer you put it off, the harder it’s going to be. And that little ego voice that says you don’t need to learn about characterisation, structure, foreshadowing and so on… that little voice is not your friend.
It’s time to bite the bullet. By all means start plotting it out on paper. Write up character studies. But don’t run the risk of spending too much time plotting on paper or your enthusiasm will be spent before you write a first draft.
Don’t spend years dreaming about your novel. Don’t become so attached to all those characters and plans that you sabotage a good idea because you let it set in stone. And don’t spend too long plotting it out on paper. Learn your craft, be prepared for your characters to surprise you, and don’t count on that ending working. Always be open to new ideas, new characters, and new twists. Your novel should be an adventure for you as much as the reader.
So, let me say it again: don’t take too long to start your novel. Stop dreaming and start writing.
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