The Genesis of A Novel Isn’t That Important

When­ever I begin a novel,” he said, “the begin­ning never stays at the begin­ning. It ends up in the mid­dle, or near the end. It never stays put where I started.”

That is an inter­est­ing quote from Philip Graham’s lat­est post on writ­ing a novel and how to approach it. It’s eye open­ing to me because I have always assumed nov­els sprang mostly fully formed into the minds of their authors. In think­ing about that though, it seems silly in the same way that think­ing fully formed soft­ware solu­tions spring into the minds of soft­ware archi­tects. What instead most likely hap­pens is that you begin writ­ing a novel and real­ize along the way that this fea­ture needed to be added before, or this char­ac­ter needed to be fleshed out or one of any num­ber of other things. Or maybe you see the end of a piece of the plot so you write that and then return to the beginning.

This con­cept of cre­at­ing pieces of a novel and then tying them all together is intrigu­ing to me. I think it’s why my writ­ing instruc­tor used to say to not worry about the plot and instead develop char­ac­ters. The plot may be dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent from what you orig­i­nally con­ceived but if you have strong char­ac­ters, the reader will still be interested.

This also ties into my pre­vi­ous post on writ­ing a lot, regard­less of qual­ity. The more I write, the more ideas I have for writ­ing not only on blogs but in fic­tion as well. When you develop char­ac­ters, you begin to see how they might fit into their world, what issues they might have, what sto­ries they might have to tell. If you just wait for a plot or story to develop in your con­scious­ness, I don’t think you’ll write very many stories.

The idea of pieces of the novel com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other over time is fas­ci­nat­ing, an almost iter­a­tive approach to writ­ing a story. As char­ac­ters develop, their sto­ries will start to reveal them­selves to the author which leads to the plot of the novel devel­op­ing around the char­ac­ters instead of the other way around. The sto­ries I have always been most inter­ested in are ones that have inter­est­ing char­ac­ters. I become attached to the char­ac­ter and thus the story takes on mean­ing through their eyes. It only makes sense that a novel would be writ­ten around the char­ac­ters, allow­ing the plot to develop nat­u­rally as the char­ac­ters become deeper and more involved with each other.

Cre­ate inter­est­ing char­ac­ters and you will cre­ate inter­est­ing stories.

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