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Posts from the ‘Writing a novel’ Category

Powerless Heroes, by Michael Pryor

I know this article should really be called ‘Powerless Protagonists’ or ‘Powerless Main Characters’ but I couldn’t resist the nuance of ‘Powerless Heroes’. What I’m talking about is the tendency of many stories to have a main character who is helpless. Put upon. A loser.

I was once reading a book – and it shall remain nameless – when I ran into a character who lurched from disaster to disaster, relationships soured as soon as he touched them, businesses went downhill as soon as he joined and weather became inclement the moment he stepped outside. He was hapless in the extreme. I think we were meant to sympathise with him as an everyman, but I just grew more and more irritated – and then I had an insight.

It isn’t just that he was a victim of circumstance, it was his reaction to all this. Hardship didn’t make him stronger and didn’t make him more determined – he simply bore it with what was meant to be good grace but came across as peevish whining.

When writing, I maintain that main characters should be powerful in two senses:

Firstly, your main character needs to be in a position to act. By that, I mean she or he should be physically able to affect events in the novel. For instance, a hermit, all alone on an island, is probably a poor choice as a protagonist in a story about the wheelings and dealings in political circles in Whitehall, where up and coming crusader Holly Stanthorpe is caught up in a controversy that shows us the seamy side of the historic buildings clique. No, Holly Stanthorpe is better placed to be the main character, instead of poor shipwrecked Ishmael Callaghan, having to read about events by way of the erratic delivery of messages in bottles.

Secondly, your main character should be psychologically able to act. This doesn’t have to mean that they are out and out action heroes, ready to disarm the terrorist using materials close at hand, no matter how appealing that might seem. It doesn’t mean that they are successful in their attempts to act, but, to drive the novel forward and engage a reader as an accomplice, the main character should, at some time in the story, make decisions that affect the events unfolding in the narrative.

Without being physically able to act and psychologically able to act, we have main characters who are buffeted about by the seas of fate and destiny. This is all well and good for navigational buoys but deadly dull if you’re a reader.

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Michael Pryor’s author website: www.michaelpryor.com.au

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     Moonshadow - The Wrath of the Wolf by Simon Higgins - coverHalf Moon BayHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Month In Review (December 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its final month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for December 2013

On Finding Success As A Writer by Jenn J McLeod

Going Public With Your Writing Habit by Phillipa Fioretti

Writing A Chapter Summary For Your Novel, by Kate Belle (guest article)

Setting In Your Novel by Alison Booth

Chase Your Dreams by Helene Young

Collaboration In The Writing Community by Kelly Inglis

Calling Yourself A Writer by Lia Weston

Taking Notes In The Course of Writing A Novel by Onil Lad

Writing Characters Readers Will Care About  by Ben Marshall

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.

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Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Month In Review (November 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its eleventh month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for November 2013

On Choosing A Title For Your Novel by Alison Booth

On Critiques, Contests And Conferences by Jenn J McLeod

Being An Author Book Stores Will Enjoy Working With by Lia Weston

The Importance Of Secondary Characters In Novels by Phillipa Fioretti

Writing A Satisfying Story Ending by Kelly Inglis

What Makes A Good First Chapter? by Ben Marshall

On Editing Fiction by Onil Lad

Writing Deadlines… And When Life Gets In The Way by Helene Young

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.

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Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Month In Review (October 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its tenth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for October 2013

Finding Your Muse As A Writer by Jenn J McLeod

On Developing And Researching A Novel by Alison Booth

Navigating Your Way Through Conflicting Writing Advice by Lia Weston

Novel Editing And Over-Used Words by Helene Young

Hooking Readers With The Opening Of Your Novel by Kelly Inglis

On How Many Characters To Use In My Novel by Onil Lad

On Plotting And Writing Novels by Phillipa Fioretti

Writing Couples In Novels by Ben Marshall

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.

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Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Hooking Readers With The Opening Of Your Novel, by Kelly Inglis

It’s essential that the first few pages of your novel intrigue the reader, like the bait on a hook entices a fish. But if the fish doesn’t take the bait, then you’re having a plain old salad for dinner. It’s the same with a story: if the opening pages of your book don’t hold the reader’s attention, then they likely won’t finish it, and certainly won’t recommend it to their friends or provide a favourable review.

When I’m reading a new story, the first few pages have to grab me and hold my interest. By the end of the first chapter, I expect to be so absorbed in the plot and the character’s lives that I absolutely cannot put the book down.

So how does an author get their readers onto that proverbial fish hook?

Firstly, the opening pages need to make the reader feel something. Consider using either characters or scene to establish some sort of emotion in your readers. It may be that you introduce a great main character with whom the reader can identify. Perhaps it’s the girl next door who reminds the reader of their best friend, or the sympathy elicited by the devastated parent mourning the recent loss of a child. Or you may choose to introduce the loathsome criminal who the readers immediately want to see come to a remarkably unpleasant demise. To make the reader care about your characters, they need to be genuine, or the reader won’t be drawn into their lives and won’t keep reading.

You can also create emotion by establishing the scene. Imagining the horrors of the hundred children with their sunken eyes and malnourished bodies toiling away in a Bangladeshi sweat shop elicits very different emotions in the reader compared to those evoked by the imagery of an exclusive country club where tuxedoed waiters serve complimentary Moët to every guest upon their arrival. Regardless of whether you use characters or scene to open your story, those opening pages must make your reader wonder about the people or the places, and want to know more about them.

Another way in which to keep your readers reading is to establish a problem or conflict in the early scenes. For example, Emily has locked her keys and mobile phone in her car and it’s getting late. Does she risk walking home through the not-so-safe streets to get her spare key, or does she swallow her pride, knock on the door she just slammed and ask her cheating ex-boyfriend if she can use his phone to call someone to help her? Emily’s dilemma drives the story forward, making the reader want to turn the page to see which decision she makes.

Starting a story in the midst of the action is another way in which to draw your reader into the book. Having a drug deal going down in a seedy back alley or a bloody gun battle in West Somalia on page one creates momentum that can captivate the reader right from the start. However, you need to ensure you provide the reader with just enough information about the characters and scene so that they aren’t confused by the action.

Like any good fisherman would know, fishing is not quite as simple as just hooking the fish. Just because you’ve hooked it, doesn’t mean that you can reel it into the boat, so after getting the reader firmly hooked on your characters and plot you’ll need to ensure the rest of your story keeps them on the line until the very end.

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Kelly Inglis’s bio page

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     Wings of FearHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistThe Indigo Sky

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Month In Review (September 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its ninth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for September 2013

Using Observation And The Senses To Enhance Your Writing by Lia Weston

Knowing When To Take A Break From Your Writing by Phillipa Fioretti

When Our Fiction Impacts Readers’ Lives by Jenn J McLeod

On Sex Scenes In Novels by Alison Booth

Writing About The Future In Fiction by Ben Marshall

Refining The Tone Of Scenes When Editing A Novel by Helene Young

The Ups And Downs Of Writing A Novel by Onil Lad

Building A Profile As A Novelist by Kelly Inglis

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.

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Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Writing About The Future In Fiction, by Ben Marshall

In the future, people will have huge television screens, wear disposable silver jumpsuits and eat instant meals you can dial up from a 3D food printer that sits behind a sliding hatch in the kitchen wall.  Wormholes to other planets in other solar systems will be commonplace and we’ll be at war with some kind of Intergalactic Confederation who will want to take over everything for some reason.

Or, we’ll be living in a post-apocalyptic future, with or without zombies, amongst the shattered, radioactive ruins of which we’ll wander about looking for caches of canned goods while returning to our violent, Palaeolithic Lord of the Flies ways.

Or, large swathes of the planet will look like super-large developing-world urban conglomerates, with Bladerunner-esque tech touches, a 1984-ish political system, and an even deeper and more desperate division between rich and poor.

If you’re sceptical the future will be like any of those stock sci-fi visions it’s probably because you’re aware that, as a species, our predictive powers, Arthur C. Clarke and William Gibson aside, are limited.  History is simply too non-linear.

Few in my early life thought personal computers would be such a big deal, that phones would become ‘life companions’, or that the jumpsuit thing wouldn’t pan out.  We couldn’t see social and technological trends converging, in part because it happened so quickly, and also because change came from so many directions.  Immersed in the chaos of our daily minutiae, we can’t see the bigger patterns forming.

So how do we research the future for our speculative fiction and sci-fi?

There are those who study the future for a living, chiefly in academia, business and defence, their methodologies allowing them to extrapolate possible and probable futures.  In general, these professionals are working on specific subsets of the future, with specific starting premises and assumptions.  In other words, they’re not world-building as we are in the literary realm.

Cultural historian and strategic specialist with the Dutch government, Boudewijn Steur, suggests, “There are actually many similarities between studying history and thinking about the future. In both cases, one needs to take multiple perspectives into account, and question what ‘the margins of uncertainty’ are.  Also, both in looking to the past and to the future, we need to ‘distance’ ourselves from the present timeframe and indicate causal relations, between disrupting events for example.”

With my novel manuscript, The Pricking of Thumbs, I wanted to explore the world of 2070, or as much of it as I could cram into a novel.  Thus the narrative stretches from the British Isles, across Europe and Russia to the remote Tien Shan in Asia Minor, revealing the environmental and social changes en route through the eyes of my freak show protagonists.   In the final chapters, I look more at the technological, and build a new form of the homo species – homo connectus.

To do all this, I looked at what I wanted to happen in the world, and then at what would be likely to stop that happening.  My ideal world was self-sufficient, sustainable, globally and locally democratic, and using developing technologies to reduce population size to preserve resources, climate, and wild and non-wild environment.  A greenie’s paradise.

Then I extrapolated current trends – sociobiological (history, politics, anthropology, religion, and neurobiology), environmental (climatology, geology, oceanography, and general evolution) and took a quick glance at disruptive events like the odds of a visitation from aliens (virtually zero), or someone thinking up a new political system fairer than anything anyone’s ever thought of yet (again, virtually zero), or a new energy source derived readily and cheaply from, say, sea water (low).

Summing up all those trends gave me a fairly standard, arguably obvious, future crash, or series of crashes, when the unquenchable human desire for infinite resources meets the reality of those same resources being finite.  This I called the Collapse.

On the technology side – and I had a particular interest in neurobiology for this story – I saw that the concept of a self-propagating computer super-intelligence (often called the Singularity) will become mainstream as global environmental issues increase pressure to think up new technologies to save us.  The Singularity concept is hotly debated, often derided, and widely used in fiction, but it’s one that, after examining the assumptions underlying the premise, I don’t buy into.   That said, to a power-hungry government or corporation on an unstable planet, a tame super intelligence would be desirable tech.

Finally, and related to the above, I also saw that the human species remains mired in its biology – humans cannot think or act beyond a certain set of physiological and neurological parameters.   It’s true we use telescopes, technology, language and math to extend our range somewhat, but it’s clear the only thing our species learns from history is that our species never learns from history.  This points to a cultural reality that the human default for thought and behaviour is the medieval.  This idea isn’t popular but I found no evidence to suggest it’s wrong so it informed my novel accordingly.

So, if you want to time travel into the future, grab the trends as defined by the best current evidence available in the sciences, pit your premises and assumptions about the future against that evidence, let your protagonists hope for the best and plan for the worst – and hang on for a wild ride.  Bonne chance!

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Ben Marshall’s author website: www.benmarshall-wordpirate.com

Ben Marshall’s bio page

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Stillwater CreekSavage TideHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodWings of FearThe Fragment of Dreams

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

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