Some Thoughts On How To Write A Novel, By A Recently Published Author
By Rorie Smith
Writing a novel by taking a course is like learning to fly a plane by reading the instruction manual... it can't be done.
In the end you just have to take the plunge and jump in and start all by yourself.
The problem is that publishing offices are full to bursting with novels that are so WRONG that they will never be published in a million years.
There are two basic rules and one piece of style advice that every aspiring writer should know.
The first rule is to TELL A STORY. It does not matter how obtuse, or obscure it is but every novel at some level has to have that basic STORY TELLING aspect. And at some level you have to keep the story going throughout the book.
A novel without a story is like a car without a motor.
Get yourself down to the level of telling a bed time story to a child. Or imagine you are with a group of friends round a camp fire spinning a ghost yarn. If you don't hold their attention they will get bored and stop listening.
Don't be afraid to exaggerate the story. Who was the movie mogul who said every script should start with a crisis and go on to a catastrophe?
Inside three pages the hero of Tombola has discovered he has terminal cancer and that a corrupt businessman is about to rip down his football club. And Tombola is not ever a thriller!
If you really have hyped it too much you can can always row it back later.
The second major piece of advice is that you must really FEEL about your novel.
It can be a love story, an adventure story, or a literary thriller but if you don't feel it, then certainly an editor won't.
Tombola began to take shape in my mind when I read a statistic that 5.6m children a year worldwide die from malnutrition - that is about 15,000 a day.
That figure went round and round in my head and I thought how can this be so - how in a world of plenty can we let this happen?
That was the driving force behind writing the novel, which is turning into a word of mouth, cult fiction best seller. Everything else followed from that.
I said there were two essentials rules to writing a novel and one piece of stylistic advice.
That advice concerns your own experience. Obviously we all write largely using our own experience. And if you are writing a memoir, then it is going to be pretty much all experience.
But if you are trying a regular novel you should try and disguise your own experience. Take a step away, be objective about yourself.
In Tombola there is a lot of me, my thoughts, my life, my experiences, but they have all been changed and altered.
As an author you don't want the reader to see the ribs and planking of the craft your are creating. You want the reader to see the whole finished object.
Time and time again, if I saw myself poking through the canvas when writing Tombola I went back and reworked and rewrote passages.
(And here is a last throwaway piece of advice. Don't take yourself too seriously. Even the most fabulous of literary novels are ninety percent story and ten per cent ' message.' )
There is no charge for this advice. I am not trying to sell you a magic novel writing powder. Because we all know that there are no short cuts.
Getting a novel written and published is mostly hard work, with lesser amounts of luck and talent.