Writing a novel is an exercise of beautiful frustration

There are many would-be novelists in the world of Writerdom, but few have managed to succeed in accomplishing the first draft of their mystery novel, the six-part sci fantasy, or an imagined love story set on a Caribbean island.

On the surface, writing fiction involves patience, heaps of research, organization (grammar, spelling, structure and lots of coffee). Yet, plot structure, character development, compelling dialogue and several other factors are involved with creating works of fiction.

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When a book lacks the essentials of exceptional storytelling, the novel is unlikely to be the next Games of Thrones, Harry Potter or War and Peace.

However, even if the first novel doesn’t make it, there’s always a chance of producing another novel capable of stunning readers and literary agents.

If a writer’s first novel is unsuccessful, perhaps the next attempt might work. Learn from mistakes. Writers shouldn’t despair if their first attempt at a novel is a disaster, but rather see the failure as an instructive exercise in writing.         

My first novel, The Astral Projection Conspiracy, turned sour – a bloated ink carcass.

I did some things right – the character development worked, but there were too many moments when storytelling got stuck into unnecessary details, giving the story a pace slower than a Morris Marina with flats.

A reviewer said: “Not a bad book, but perhaps a tad too long. The characters are interesting in their flaws, and Archer does a fairly good job of painting them fully. It is a bit difficult trying to parse their motivations at times, though and truly the book wasn’t as scary as I’d expected it to be, given it’s categorized under the horror genre.”

There are various ways of improving writing styles and techniques before typing the first drafts of future novels.

Creative writing courses at a university or college assist hopeful writers in developing their craft, where an individual’s writing is workshopped, praised and criticized within class settings. Also, worthier professors encourage their students to read motivational authors to help them develop their styles. These instructors will urge their students to practise and re-edit their writing each day as they eke out improvements.

If university is out of the question, writing groups might be the ideal resolution, although social distancing means less of these kinds of sessions right now.

But joining a writing group is worth considering, especially if this group is hosted by an experienced and successful author.

Local author Heather Hobbs, who’s written several Y/A books since retiring as a school principal, including the popular Breaking the Rules series, held a writers’ group in the Assiniboia and District Public Library before COVID-19 upset the apple basket.                 

The writing group last met on March 5 of this year to workshop fictional and nonfictional pieces and talk over writing techniques.

During the workshop, Hobbs discoursed over the structural methods she employed in writing, such as the story’s five milestones and slaps. Slaps are sections in the plot meant to jostle and surprise the reader, enticing them to keep turning the pages.   

In the first milestone, an incident happens. Next, the first slap occurs, representing a complication for the story’s protagonist.

Following the first slap, the second slap transpires – a stage representing a progressive complication embedded in the plot. Both of these slaps are actions in the story designed to surpass the reader’s expectations.

Predictabilities within a plot must be avoided to engage the reader’s interest.

Next, actions within the story must build into a climax – the climax being the turning point in a piece of fiction. The climax in a novel contains the highest peaks of tension and drama in the story. Also, the ultimate crisis within a story should be confrontational with added and impulsive elements designed to surpass the reader’s anticipations. Shock the hell out of them, in other words.

“You want to be hard on your heroes,” Hobbs instructed her class.

After the climax, the story should unfold into a resolution – the story’s outcome at the end is the last of the five milestones.

During the workshop, Hobbs advised the writers to practise various techniques when they are developing their stories.

“You should brainstorm – write 20 things to help avoid things that have been done before.” Also, successful writers express their thoughts using clear, knowledgeable voices. “Write about what you know,” Hobbs instructed.

Further, Hobbs suggested her writers carry notebooks to scribble their thoughts. “Always have a notebook,” she said, referring to notebooks as compost heaps, where sudden thoughts are jotted then used for stories later.