What You Should Know Before Writing A Novel
There are certain elements which every novel has and they are plot, setting, characterisation, theme, style, and presentation. Most should be familiar with them, but it doesn’t hurt to revise! Here are some things to note when before you start writing a novel.
Plot is what happens in the novel, it is the arrangement of the story. Here are the important things to note:
- There can be a logical development of events with a careful linking of scenes.
- Also, there can be a series of apparently unrelated scenes, which are not shown to be connected until the end of the novel. However, there should be a beginning, a middle, and an end.
- There should be plausible, but there can still be room for the element of surprise.
- There should be conflict, either within the central characters or between characters, or between characters and their environment.
- The climax of the story is the highest point of interest; the moment when the conflict is most intense; the time when the consequences of a character’s actions become inevitable; when all the main points of the plot merge.
- The denouement is when all the little mysteries in the plot are revealed, and all the loose ends are tied up.
- The pace of the novel slows down with the denouement.
This is a sequence (or sequences) of events that parallels the main plot; it can closely resemble the main plot or it can diverge in significant ways in order to highlight the main plot.
The setting of a novel encompasses a number of different, but linked, elements:
- Time: day or night; summer or winter; the historical period (an actual date)
- Place: inside or outside; country or city; specific town and country; real or fictional
- Social: the minor characters who take little part in advancing the plot, but whose presence contributes to the realism of the novel
- Mood and atmosphere: eerie; dangerous; menacing; tense; threatening; relaxing; nostalgic; happy; light-hearted etc.
Characters in a novel are the vehicles by which you conveys to your view of the world. Here’s what you should take note:
- Readers learn about individual characters from their own words and actions; from what other characters say about them and the way others act towards them.
- Characters help advance the plot.
- Believable characters must grow and change in response to their experiences in the novel.
This is the central idea which runs through the novel; your purpose in writing this novel. Here’s what to take note:
- It is the point of view from which you are writing.
- There may be a moral to the story – such as the need for social reform in many of Dickens’ novels.
- The theme gives the story focus, unity, impact and a ‘point’.
- The theme becomes clear by looking at what happens to the major characters. If the main character survives while others don’t, it shows readers that the character’s behaviour is being rewarded by the author.
These often help clarify a theme when writing a novel. It can be anything from a single object (a key, a necklace, a stone); a place (the beach, an airport, a house); a repeated type of object (a dark car, a woman in sunglasses, an eagle flying overhead); a shape (diamonds, circles, crucifixes); a gesture (wiping glasses, lighting a pipe, a hand in a pocket); a colour; a sound; a piece of music, poetry; to a fragrance (the smell of new-mown grass, cigar smoke).
Symbols are used to give intangible ideas and emotions visibility and solidity that makes readers notice them. Symbols can also help unify the plot, where a recurring symbol is used to link different events and characters.
This is the revelation of the unexpected consequences of actions and words. Irony can add interest, humour and impact to the novel, or it can give depth to characters, tighten the plot, help to define the characters and contribute to our understanding of your novel’s theme.
Point Of View
This is the perspective from which you’re telling the story. There are four main ways a story can be presented (and countless combinations of these):
- The central character tells the story in his/her own words.
- A non-central character tells the story.
- All the characters are referred in the third person, but reveals only what can be seen, heard or thought by a central character.
- All the characters are referred in the third person. Describe what most or all of the characters see, hear and think and/or describe events which do not concern any of the characters.
These point of views can provide readers access to character’s thoughts or to what’s happening in the story. These can also emphasise different things. You can adopt a subjective point of view, to let the readers judge and interpret the characters for themselves; an objective point of view, where you present the events and allow your readers to make judgements; flashbacks, to fill in the background for your readers.
This is what the characters are directly saying to each other or to their environment. Dialogue breaks up the actions and descriptions, so the readers can take a break from them and not get bored. Here are the four main purposes of a dialogue in a novel:
- Elicit reaction of readers. Whether by admitting their feelings or motivation, a character directly saying what they want or need can bring out emotions from readers. By baring the characters to the readers (and to the characters themselves), readers can either relate to them or dislike them.
- Advance the plot. Dialogue can be a catalyst of change or movement of the plot. A simple declaration or revelation can cause different things to move the plot along.
- Reveal a character. Dialogue can reveal a character’s traits, looks, motivation, or backstory. If that happens through either that character or another’s, that’s up to you.
- Create and increase conflict. An offhand snide remark, an overheard conversation, no matter what it is – dialogue should be able to create or increase tension and conflict.
The language you use also reveals the theme and purpose of your novel. Whether the complexity of sentence and paragraph structure, the use of humour, satire and irony, imagery and other poetic devices, and word choice, all contribute to the readers’ appreciation of the characters and events which involve them. It’s your choice, whether your readers are left totally unconcerned about the fate of characters, or can shed tears when some tragic end overtakes them.
When writing your novel, it’s great if you can direct your readers to discuss a particular aspect of the your novel when they’re reading it.
Writing a novel may sound intimidating for a start, but with some planning, it should be less scary. Follow the steps in our guide and you will be ready to embark on your adventure in your new novel. Leave a comment and share your new novel with us and our community now!
Refer to our article on the word count for different genres of novels.