At the moment, I’m churning out more than 1000 words a day of my second novel, a psychological thriller.  I wouldn’t call the work easy, but I certainly wouldn’t describe it as frustrating – rather, challenging and rewarding.  In the past, however, the writing hasn’t always come quickly. Recently, in fact, I’ve thought a lot about previous drafts of my two novels, particularly the problematic areas in the stories. 

The biggest obstacle to story telling, I suspect, lies in not knowing what the story is really about.  Story telling is fundamentally about people.  Character.  What motivates a character. Their most powerful desires, their greatest fears.

But characters don’t exist in isolation. They interact with other characters. One character might behave unfavourably to another. The character in question might plan their actions with a goal in mind.  Revenge.  Greed. 

Alternatively, a character might seek to protect or rescue another character. Those characters – “the goodies” – will also need a plan of action.

Will the character achieve their goal?   The three possible answers are Yes, No and Don’t Know (open endings).

The central story question forms the basis of the plot.  Character-led plot drives the story on. Obstacles threaten to prevent the central character’s aims.  In thriller and crime novels, the danger often mounts.  If not, the descent into emotional mayhem may intensify.

What’s the best way of telling the story on paper?   This is where structure comes in.  Viewpoint consideration.   Chapter lengths.  Whether to divide the novel into sections. Whether to incorporate back story or memory flashbacks.  What to concentrate on.  In thriller and crime novels, the writer has a number of options.  The forensic set up. The current investigation. The effects of the crime on the people involved.  The character interactions. In my novels, I concentrate mostly on how an event has impacted the lives of others and how those characters relate to one another.  

Finally, theme. What the story is really about.  The point the author is hoping to make through their writing. 

Just a few of my thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “Novel Writing: What’s The Story Really About?

  1. A couple of comments if you don’t mind:

    “Character-led plot drives the story on.” Sometimes interesting characters are the end and not the means. Raymond Chandler himself wasn’t too sure who committed one of the murders in “The Big Sleep”. The answer to the riddle, the resolution to the crime, may in fact be secondary.

    “In my novels, I concentrate mostly on how an event has impacted the lives of others and how those characters relate to one another.” I am in agreement wholeheartedly. The simplistic structure of a murdrer mystery, no matter how “complex” the crime, tends to be overly formulaic and like a long joke where we as readers are waiting for the punchline. Some of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels come off that way. The ones in which characters (main or secondary) go through an emotional revelation or transition have more of an impact on me.

    As for structure, often when I write a crime or mystery piece, I think I have a structure; I think I have a resolution. I am surprised at how many turns there are in the road.

    And you have also discussed writing psychological thrillers where I believe theme is more profoundly important. I think that is the underlying structure to such writing.

  2. Excellent points, tikiman. Thanks. Like you, I much prefer novels where a character goes through an emotional transition to novels that are simply murder mysteries.

    Best with your writing.

  3. “The biggest obstacle to story telling, I suspect, lies in not knowing what the story is really about.” I agree. It’s nice to have everything figured out and know how it’s going to go, yet the writing journey itself is a great reward and oftentimes surprising; perhaps that not knowing aspect lends to the emotional transitions. Thoughtful post.

  4. Very true. Thanks. I still don’t know all the events that will unfold in the story, but I’m enjoying the writing process. I’ll soon be at the 60,000 word mark.

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