Thursday, 19 October 2017

Can Anyone Write a Novel?

Last month, I gave a talk to a local seniors group. It was similar to the ones I have done in the past – describing my writing ‘career’, including the differences between writing in the 1960s and writing today, and also giving some examples of where I get my ideas and how I develop my stories.

At the end of all my talks, I’ve had various questions, ranging from ‘How long does it take you to write a novel?’ to ‘How much research do you have to do?’

This time I had a different question. Someone said, “They say there is a novel in everyone. Do you think anyone can write one?’

I had to think on my feet! In the end I said something like, “First I think you have to want to write, and then you have to make the time to do it, rather than just write when you happen to have some spare time or feel like writing. There can also be a big difference between simply writing a novel, and writing something that will be accepted by a publisher. It can involve a lot of time and hard work – not just the actual writing, but also the research you need to do, even for a contemporary novel. You might also have to learn about plotting, using dialogue, and developing your characters, and I also think you need to have a good grasp of grammar, punctuation and spelling.”

That’s a summary of my ‘off the cuff’ answer, which I’m aware might only have covered a small part of what is involved in writing a novel. 

While we were having a cup of tea afterwards, someone else said to me, “I couldn’t write a novel. I don’t have the imagination to create a story.”

On my way home, I thought about this and realised this person was right. The need/desire to write (which means you make the time to do it) is combined with the imagination to create characters and their story. You can learn all the other things – and indeed, we all learn as we go along.

What do you think? Can anyone write a novel? And how would you have answered that question?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Plot Driven or Character Driven?

A blog interview question asking ‘Are you plot driven or character driven?’ made me wonder what the difference is between these.

One definition I found was that ‘character driven’ means the story concentrates on characterisation, internal conflict, and relationships, with the characters changing an attitude or otherwise resolving a personal problem. ‘Plot driven’ seems to describe stories with more emphasis on plot twists, external conflict, and action. The goal in these is to win, escape, or change a situation.

At first glance, it’s easy to say ‘character driven’ applies to romances, while ‘plot driven’ applies to mysteries or thrillers.

However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. A romance story which only concentrates on internal agonising and/or problems in a developing relationship can soon become tedious. A thriller or mystery, with no characterisation of the protagonists, soon becomes a puppet show, where the characters are jerked around with lots of action, but no motivation or emotions.

I believe we have to combine the two aspects to create a good story, whether it’s a romance or a thriller. We need the ‘real’ characters of the character driven stories, with their hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. Yes, they may have internal conflicts to resolve, they may need to change an attitude or learn some kind of lesson. But if they are only doing this within the confines of a developing relationship, with not much else happening to influence them or show them the way, it won’t be a very interesting story, unless your reader is interested in the psychology of relationships and the inner workings  of your characters’ minds.

Therefore we need the plot twists, and the external events to keep the reader turning the pages.

Would ‘Gone With the Wind’ have worked if it had just shown the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett in peaceful, uneventful times?

Would a Civil War story work if we didn’t get involved in the characters’ lives and loves?

To my mind, stories need to be both character driven and plot driven. I start mine with the growing seed of a situation/plot into which I throw my characters. After that, plot and characters develop equally and interact throughout the story.

How about you? Are you plot driven or character driven?