Key questions to ask when writing a novel

As part of my teaching of aspiring authors, I am often asked what they need to consider when writing a novel. I always say that, if you are thinking of writing a novel, start by asking some key questions:

Why do you want to write it - does the story sustain a novel?

Can you really do it? This is a long slog.

Can you sell it? Has it been done before? Is your idea a new one or are you able to re-tell an old story in a new and fresh way?

Who will tell your story? Third person - can see everything all the times - or first person - allows for a certain informality but restricted to what happens around them?

If they decide to go ahead, my advice is always:

Write a detailed synopsis first: map out your story. I do it chapter by chapter. I very rarely stick to it but it gets my mind focused. I find it also helps to be able to summarise a novel in a single line.

You need to develop various plotlines to sustain a novel. Novels can work with one single story but the best ones tend to have sub-plots involving other characters

You need a strong sense of place and strong characters, which goes back to my belief that there are three points to the writing triangle - story, sense of place, sense of people. Get them right and the rest flows from it

As the story develops, there has to be a pace, a sense of things happening, so the reader does not have chance to become bored.

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A question of pace

I am editing the first draft of a new Jack Harris novel at the moment and my big preoccupation is pace.Learning how to write a narrative with the right pace is one of the most crucial writing skills. Get it wrong and you are jeopardising your chances of success. Get it right and you are onto something.In this case, there are some sections where characters are repeating what others have already said in other passages.Deleting some lines has removed such sections, eradicated the slowing of pace…See More
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