Writing a Novel

I'm attempting to write a novel. Not a short story, though if you want to check out my short stories you can visit this URL and leave me some feedback.

What does a novel need? Well, here's my opinion.

1) Characters, lots of interesting characters. There should be main characters and minor characters. Obviously the main characters should be developed more, but minor characters need background and personality, if only for determining what the bloody hell they're going to do when confronted with a main character.

2) A protagonist. A good protagonist, one who interests the readers and especially the author. What's the point of writing a novel if you don't like your star? One could easily argue against this point, but I'm not that kind of author, I want to sympathise with my heros and heroines. They should be the kinds of people I would like to become one day, or worship, or date (if I were single, which I'm not).

3) A unique writing style. Trite, but then so is the very act of writing a novel. Nothing's new under the sun, so the best we can try to do is capture the light in an interesting way, even if it is only the light that bounces off your dusty car window at twilight and makes you see faint flying saucers on the horizon as you drive down I-5.

4) The word "foment." This is a great and beautiful word and is completely under-utilised in the modern vernacular. Any good novel should at least attempt to use this word once per chapter.

5) A foreign language needs to be implicated, somehow. Whether one of the characters is bilingual, or is taking a Spanish class, or runs into some German tourists, it doesn't matter. Actual samples of the language lend authenticity to the endeavour, n'est-ce pas?

6) A plot. While not strictly necessary, it will determine whether your novel is a beach-read, a garage-sale special, or a 10th-grade English class requirement.

7) References to pop culture. These will lend themselves well to future 10th-grade English classes who will now have to muddle through foot-notes and glosses in addition to actually reading the text. The more obscure the reference the longer the future editor's footnotes will be. This is the mark of a true master of the genre. cf Joyce.

8) Some 'speculations.' I would say science-fiction, but I really mean 'speculative,' in the Kurt Vonnegut sense. Examples are stiff walking robots, hairdriers which talk like speak-n-spells, moving your keys with your mind, or even just plain-old rocket ships, laser guns and little green martians. Never be afraid to use speculations to make commentary on the human condition.

9) Oblique references to the human condition. If you aren't commenting on what it means to be human, you aren't writing. Period.

10) A self-congratulatory biography. Talk about raising peanuts from when you were knee-high to a grasshopper, how you worked 27 hours a day while living in a hovel under the lake where your dad would switch you with broken bottles, and how you rose out of your poverty to become the king of porn in the San Fernando Valley. Or don't. This 10th point was just put here to round out the list.


At 7/28/04, 12:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barak does rock, I worked tonight so couldn't see it until rerun later, but worth staying up late for. But of course Bill, as Calvin Trillan said is always "Our Bill".

Also great novel writing thoughts, I know the best advise I ever got about playwriting was " The best playwrights love people", I chewed on that for a long time and he was right (Moscone) For instance in Importance of Being Earnest, Moscone figured out that Wilde wasn't chastising his characters for being silly hypocrites at times, but instead embracing that part of themselves. All good endings end with us being less of an asshole.


At 7/28/04, 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh and I wanted to mention, Newsweek has a very good article in their current addition about Kerry. I mean i am a supporter and *I* like him better after reading it! It is very good.

At 7/28/04, 1:18 PM, Blogger Les said...


the best second language to use is, of course, Esperanto.

At 8/2/04, 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing new under the sun always reminds me of the opening of Beckett's Murphy: "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new." Even though this is just a reworking of an old cliche, it still manages to be beautiful. As an incurable optimist, I like writing which amuses itself by laughing at human foibles and institutions, without ever descending into cynicism. Wilde is certainly a good example of this, which has been pointed out above. Another great example is Swift, famous for his scathing indictments of human folly, but what many people overlook is that the supreme folly belongs to Gulliver (not Swift!) for falling for the Houyhnhnm's unattainable sterile ideal at the expense of his fellow (beautiful in their imperfection) humans/Yahoos.

-Brian K.


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