Novel Writing: keeping Record Of Story Questions

I’ve sent out the opening chapters of my latest novel and am waiting to hear back.   In the meantime, I’ve ended up with a major bout of writer’s block and haven’t written any fiction of several weeks.  Just concentrating on music and language studies while I decide what to do next in regards to the writing.  At this rate, I will be tri-lingual!

I thought I would reblog an article from over five years ago concerning the editing process, particularly the earlier stages of writing a novel when story ideas can go awry, leaving the draft manuscript muddled.   Having worked on three novels, I tend to believe that less is best – fewer exciting or thrilling events told compellingly have a greater effect than lots of things happening.

Here is the article from five years ago.

Editing and Revision: The Importance of Story Questions

I’ve been using a new technique in my novel writing to keep the material from losing focus – something that tended to happen a lot in my earlier drafts. Up to recently, I’d been reading through the manuscript with a pen and working with groups of fifty pages, jotting down ideas and story questions as I read.

I’m experimenting with a new technique where I work backwards by writing down the story questions from the previous chapter or two until I have a small list of story questions. I do this from memory before attempting any new chapters. (In this particular novel, a psychological thriller, each chapter is told from a distinct viewpoint, so the recording of story questions helps keep me up to date with what each character is doing.) The method also helps with pacing. Pacing itself is a huge nightmare in writing – too little tension and the story gets boring, too much tension too much of the time and the tension is spent.

I’ve also noticed that revising a story line by line doesn’t really work and can actually make the story worse. In adding and improving sentences, the original immediacy can easily get lost. Even inserting dialogue to bring something out in a character can upset the flow of the narrative.

The best editing, I believe, centres around relevant story questions and knowing your characters well, particularly their deepest conflicts and their most powerful desires. These drive the story. Two of the best questions to ask about a leading character are – 1) what do they fear most? and 2) what do they want most?

During the revision process, I tend to cut a lot of material. Yet, I always end up with more. This is because getting rid of material that plays little or no function in a story frees you up to develop new ideas.

Some ideas to try:

  1. Read through a synopsis, sample chapter or blurb like summary and circle in red any words that capture your attention.
  2. Ask your main characters some questions – e.g. what are they doing on Saturday evening?
  3. Describe an incident through the eyes of three people.
  4. Problems narrating a section? Write it in second person, then rewrite the new version in the original viewpoint.

Further tips can be found in Creative Writing Headaches and Writers Bock

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Fiction: More Than One Viewpoint

Once more, I’ve reached the waiting stage.  I’ve sent out the manuscript for my last novel and am hoping to hear back.  Quite a stressful time.   Writer’s block.

In the meantime, I thought I would post an old article I wrote on the subject of viewpoints.   Generally, I like to introduce a second viewpoint in my work or, at least, a different time frame to add greater texture to the writing.  Of course, this technique can backfire, producing complexity and unnecessary details.

 

Currently, I’m writing a psychological thriller about two guys who last met when they were ten.   A serious crime occurred in the woods near their home and the main character managed to escape, but he has no recollection of the events or the person he ran from.   Twenty-six years on, he is reconciled with his former best friend, also present at the crime scene.   Soon, however, a set of disturbances occur, triggering a set of flashbacks about what really happened twenty-six years ago.

The central character’s wife has recently run away with someone, leaving him with a vulnerable eight-year-old son who has become withdrawn after a stint of bullying at school. At the start of the novel, the central character moves to his sister’s country cottage.   The story is told from three viewpoints – the central character’s (first person), his sister’s (third person) and his best mate’s (third person).    Each chapter is limited to one viewpoint.   The viewpoints rotate.

The advantages of rotating viewpoints are:

  • Greater psychological intensity and immediacy;
  • The viewpoint characters might have different interpretations of the same events;
  • By introducing back story, the varying viewpoints and time shifts expands the story, giving it a fuller feel.

However, watch for the pitfalls:

  • Story runs the risk of becoming laboured and repetitive;
  • The constant moving between character viewpoints and past and present could prove confusing.

In all, I’m enjoying this form of narration and feel it best tells the story I’m writing.

Learning The Language Game

I’ve sent out my latest novel and am waiting to hear back.  This means I have a break from writing. I’m using the extra time to polish up my foreign language skills.  I study French and German but find German much more difficult, probably because I’d already developed a working knowledge of French before starting German.

For me, language study pass through four (approximate) stages:

  • Words and phrases.  An exciting phrase because everything’s new.  This stage may seem simple, but a person can communicate with just a few words.
  • Phrases and sentences.  Less exciting, as it demands a study of grammar.  I would say that this is where I am now with German – i.e. getting confused with things like accusative endings (e.g.der and den).
  • Paragraphs and ideas.   Demanding but satisfying, requiring an understanding of verb tenses.  I believe I’m at this stage in French.  It’s enjoyable, but extremely meticulous, requiring loads of practice.
  • Pages and presentations.  My ultimate aim for both languages.

Of course, these stages are only approximates. In my case, they do not include written language study, but then my primary interest lies in conversation.

At some point, hopefully, fluency will flow.

The French Connection