We’ve all been there. You want to write a novel but how to go about it? So we head to our local bookshop, not the library because The Council closed it, and stand in front of an array of books that promise to make us better writers. Which one to choose? Will they really help? Why can no-one bloody agree?
The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. I’ve read a lot of books about writing and reading and everything in-between some are helpful, some are less so. The point is that what will help you is as individual as you are but, there’s always a ‘but’, I would caution against anything that starts with ‘How’.
‘How’ is definitive. ‘How’ says, ‘this is how it’s done and anyone else is wrong’. No, I can’t be doing with a ‘How’.
In fact, I would suggest putting down a writing guide and picking up a critical text. Yeah, I know that sounds boring but my copy of Understanding Novels by Thomas C. Foster is full of post-its. How Fiction Works by James Wood is a fantastic book that sets out techniques without being so definitive despite the ‘How’. Perhaps you want something genre specific? Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James, or From Demons To Dracula by Mathew Beresford or There Must Be A Lone Ranger by Jenni Calder. That’s before you even begin to consider all the books by writers about their own work, the obvious one being Stephen King’s On Writing.
At the risk of sounding repetitive no-one can tell you how to write and I’m not going to. They can help you write your own way better but there is no definitive right or wrong way; if there was then we’d all still be writing epic poems and pouring over rhyming dictionaries looking for words that rhyme with ‘sword’ and ‘slaying’ and possibly ‘dragon’.
The way I always found most helpful was to read around. If I want to write a sci-fi novel I’ll read a bunch of sci-fi novels and critical books on sci-fi novels. I’ll consider what I like and don’t, what I think works and doesn’t, maybe something I like from another genre that doesn’t seem to appear in sci-fi and work out how to get it in. Then I’ll write it the way I want to write it.
To me the idea of being told how to write puts fiction is boxes of right and wrong when really it should be a great big expanse of nothingness waiting to be filled with whatever you want to put in it. So read my advice if you will and take it how you want but when it comes to writing your way is the best way for you.