What Writing a Novel Is and Isn’t


When it comes to writing a novel, there’s a whole lot of obvious information you can "learn."

What a character is. What setting is. What a plot is. What dialogue is.

You know: all that simple stuff.

However, with each of those obvious definitions, there’s a whole lot of nuanced information as well. There are interpretations, perspectives, styles, intended purposes, intended audiences and so many other factors to consider.

You can learn all the definitions you want to. In fact, you should learn at least a bunch of them, many of which we’ll address in future blog posts this year. Obvious or otherwise, it’s good information to solidify in your creative-writing minds.

But when it comes to writing a novel, there’s also a lot you’ll have to feel out as you go.

Get it into your head now that you’re going to make mistakes and have epiphanies. That you might be frustrated one moment and euphoric another. That you’ll want nothing to do with your manuscript some days, while others will leave you feeling like you never want to stop working on it.

That’s just how it goes when writing a novel isn’t an absolute science. It’s an art, where there are some definite definites…

And then a whole lot of interpretation after that.

To illustrate how intertwined the “obvious science” is from the “interpretative art” of writing a novel, consider this week’s Definition:

Novel

With the advent of self-publishing, not to mention the long-lasting and game-changing recession the traditional publishing industry went through a decade ago, the understood word count for a novel is less defined than it used to be. However, depending on the genre, it’s still typically going to be in the 60,000 to 120,000 range.

That word count is meant to encompass a character (or characters) in a setting through a plot – almost assuredly involving dialogue – with the intention of engaging readers enough to keep them flipping pages ‘til the end.

Those two paragraphs are a mix of the obvious and interpretative, all of which we’ll be unlocking little by little going forward. The word count part, for one, is something we’ll explore later on this week in our Writing Rule.

As for the publishing piece, that’s going to have to wait until later on in the year. There’s just too much fact and fiction, rules and wiggle room to otherwise unwrap. It’s a good three week’s worth of discussions. Easy.

But we do have a short space to discuss the second paragraph right now, even if just to skim the surface of what’s still to come.

There are things you should and shouldn’t do when creating your characters.

There are things you should and shouldn’t do when establishing your setting.

There are things you should and shouldn’t do when driving your plot.

And there are things you should and shouldn’t do when detailing your dialogue. (Oh my word, but are there things you should and shouldn’t do when detailing your dialogue.)

But ultimately, when writing a novel, there are two things you should always do if you want to engage readers:

  1. Own your story, proudly claiming your place as a writer.

  2. Seek other’s input, humbly accepting that worthwhile writers never stop learning.

No matter the other obvious and interpretative, should and should nots, you’ll do just fine by owning and seeking. Never let go of either, and you’ll always have something promising to write about.

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