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Notes for Writing Fiction

Here are a few pointers to consider if you are writing your first novel. These are not of course hard and fast rules, but even if you do choose to adopt a different approach it should still be useful to know these broad conventions:

  1. Plot.
    Keep it very simple.  The most satisfying plots are straightforward, linear with a beginning, middle and end.  Generally flashbacks should be kept to a minimum as they can be distracting, and should only be used if entirely necessary. 
  2. Character.
    I would suggest that you limit the number of characters to say two or three major ones and a supporting cast of three more.  One of the joys of reading a novel is that the reader gets to know the characters intimately;  in order for this to work, there is usually only space for developing two or three people fully, once the plot takes off.  Any more and the book can become frustrating because the characters are rarely sufficiently well developed.  Remember that the characters should react and interact between one another as this is a good way of drawing and establishing them in the reader's mind. 
  3. Viewpoint.
    If you decide to write the novel from the first person viewpoint, remember that this can limit you.  Your narrator has to appear in every scene throughout the novel, and the story can only unfold through their eyes.  Sometimes it is useful to be able to introduce another viewpoint as another character can offer an opinion on a certain event or action which is otherwise denied to you. 
  4. Location.
    I would always suggest that you set your first book in a place that you know.   It allows you to focus on developing characters and dialogue, without worrying about too much lengthy research into place and logistics, and it usually means that you can describe the location with confidence. 
  5. Dialogue.
    Do not shy away from allowing your characters to talk.  But it is worth remembering that typically people are not allowed to talk for longer than two sentences before someone interrupts them.  The other thing that may be useful if you are trying to characterise someone through their speech is to give them a catch phrase or a word that is unique to them.  This gives them an individuality which is important. 
  6. Research. 
    The great trick here is less is more.  Use your research sparingly - the odd remark illustrating that your character knows a lot is of far more consequence that a two-page diatribe.  You will lose your readers if you allow your characters to lecture one another.
  7. Narrative pace. 
    A novel works like a piece of music - it should have highs and lows, and so you need to vary the tone throughout the book.  Constant action is exhausting, but endless soul searching is equally tiring.  A good book should have contrast - light and shade - in order to maintain the reader's interest.

Broo Doherty   Jan '08

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