Apr 6, 2012

The nuts and bolts of structuring a novel

The preparatory work that goes into a novel is huge as you have to develop interesting characters. You have to have a plot. If you don’t have a plot you don’t have a story. You have to have something happening – called an inciting incident which must seem insurmountable. Your characters have to be fleshed out and besides their physical attributes, must have an interesting nature. We must either love or hate the main character. In the novel Confessions of a Gambler we love Abeeda but are frustrated with her. She is a strong woman, but has a serious weakness. You have to have a beginning to the novel where the inciting incident is set up and the characters are faced with a problem. In this first section you have to whet the reader’s appetite. You can start the story off with a bang if you manage to set up the inciting incident in the first paragraph. This is called the narrative hook.

Believable characters

You can write a very interesting story if your characters have distinct traits or personalities. When planning to start writing the first chapter you must already have a clear direction of where the story is going to go. I give this advice to writers otherwise they are all over the place. To use Abeeda as an example, she is a complex woman who is both God conscious and ‘naughty’ as she herself says. We want to shake some sense into her to get her to stop gambling but even as we chastise her, we secretly want her to win. Her personality is so strong that the reader becomes intimately involved in her dilemma and can’t put the book down.

Equal weight to all three sections

If you succeed in producing an interesting main character for your story, it is easy to plan the subplots. How the main character behaves and what she does to deal with the dilemma that has arisen is the middle section. The last section, the end, is the resolution of the story. You must give all three sections equal weight so you don’t have a lopsided tale. In other words, do not have two thirds of the story to set it up and only one third of the story left for both the middle and end. You will have a very dissatisfied reader. Readers actually want long endings.

Tools for starting

• A quiet place which is your own personal spot to relax and write.

• Pen and paper to make scribbles and jot down notes.

• Flesh out your main character. Remember, you want an interesting rather than beautiful character; he or she must have substance to carry the tale.

• Make copious notes and quickly write down one-word descriptions to describe your characters. The more descriptions you have the better your characters will emote. Wooden characters die a quick death on the page.

• Go on, turn off The Kardashians, and try.


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