Thursday, 22 February 2007

The conception of a novel

So, I'm starting to think about a novel. More specifically I'm starting to think about actually writing a novel (another one, two previous unfinished attempts exist) and god is it hard.

I wasn't planning on writing a novel for another year or two (until I'd got some v. good short story achievements under my belt) but, after reading about the Cosmopolitan/Waterstones chick lit competition on Sally's blog ( I decided to give it a go. I've read a LOT of chick lit in my time (in addition to all the great works of literature I've also read, of course) and it's something I've beent thinking about doing for a long time. I even had a partially formed idea for it. All I need to enter the comp is a synopsis and 3,000 words. Easy peasy, right?


For a start the protagonist in my story was male. That's a big no-no in chick lit for a start. Secondly I had 3 female characters and I wanted to tell all of their stories too. POV hell. I've ummed and ahhed about it for days now. I've spent my lunch breaks in one of London's parks, sitting outside a cafe, nursing a cup of coffee, mulling it over and over in my head. At the end of every hour I'd have an 'Aha!' moment and think I'd got it. Then, after a bit more reflection, I realised I hadn't. I was thisclose to pulling my hair out and then a very kind soul on MySpace replied to my comment about 'how did you write your synopsis?' and reminded me of the various stages of 'The Heroes Journey' which is the basis of many an old tale (and often the basis of many a new one). It is:

The ordinary world
Call to adventure
Refuse the call
Meeting with the mentor
Cross the first threshold
Test, enemies, allies
Approach the innermost cave
Oreal and reward
The journey back
Return with the elixir

As I said, it's the basis of some very old stories (e.g. Greek Myths) but, for example, if you look at the Star Wars films you'll see that Luke Skywalker follows this exact path. You don't have to be 100% true to it - you can play with it to a certain extent and you you shouldn't stick rigorously to plot when writing a novel (rather you should let your characters make their own decisions) but it's a great starting point. Anyway, it really helped clarify my story in my head and I suddenly realised that if I twisted things round a bit, made the protagonist female rather than male, dropped the story of one of the women and changed the part of the male character (yes, this is getting complicated) I had a story that might actually work.

I also found this site which nicely summarises the structure of a novel:

and now I'm slowly starting to pull the threads together. I still need to do a hell of a lot of work and, by the end of this my notebook is going to be full of mad scribbles but, all of a sudden, I feel enthused and excited. This might just work. Of course it may also fall flat on its face but I need to give it a go. The closing date for the comp is 31 May so I've got plenty of time (she said foolishly). Now I just need to decide whether I can do this AND the short story commitments I've set myself.

Anyway, it's nice to feel busy.
Photo: Ducks, outside a pub somewhere in Sussex. Copyright me.

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