Turn this furlough into fertile ground by planting the seeds of your story.
For many of us, we dream of writing a novel, but don’t know where to start. We might get that initial seed of an idea, but are unsure how to grow it into a novel. So we flounder, unwilling to write just anything, overwhelmed by a plethora of doubts: it’s got to be praiseworthy; win a readership; compete in a challenging marketplace. And as an author, I know too clearly the eyes-squeezed-shut-and-holding-breath moment of friends and family reading my work. But I also know as a coach, that the barriers that make people pause from achieving their goals, don’t dim the desire and they still dream of succeeding. If this talks to you, perhaps consider applying the established GROW coaching technique of Goal; Reality; Obstacle; and Way Forward, to move past inertia. The GROW model is a self-actualization tool, but I’ve applied it here as a novel actualization tool, so you can productively use this dark spring to emerge on the other side of lockdown into summer with a flourishing first draft.
Step one: decide your goal.
A quick scan of this article will tell you that I’ve written more about this first step of goal setting than the other stages, and that’s because deciding who you want to write for and what you want to write is the biggest writing decision you’ll make. Don’t rush it. Most authors end up staying in their chosen genre for their entire career. Of course no one’s going to stop you if you do want to mix it up, but there are good reasons why most authors don’t, not least because their chosen genre is the one where they produce their best work. Many novelists waste years writing in the wrong genre – I count myself as one of them. The best book you can write (and anything less is unlikely to be published), is the one you’d want to read yourself – and read it you will – in your mind as you write, and then again and again through your edits. If it entertains you, there’s a good chance it’ll entertain someone else.
Thinking through your novel is an essential part of writing – yes, it doesn’t feel productive without a rising word count, but as a teacher, I’m aware that learning doesn’t always mean writing in exercise books – just as the most important part of writing can often happen before typing ‘chapter one.’ Planning carefully could help fast track your success. Start with considering what your favourite books are and map why – aim to spot the commonalities. Next, make a note about your areas of expertise and interesting people you’ve known – it’s not true you can only write about what you know, but it’s a great place to start. When developing your characters, consider adding both superhuman strengths and horrible hamartias, because memorable characters often have both. For example, Jay Gatsby’s capacity for love, Christopher Boone’s tenacity or Sherlock Holme’s perception are all super strengths, which combined with a super flaw – Gatsby’s inability to accept reality; Christopher’s communication difficulties and Holme’s drug addiction – make for dynamic and complex characters.
Step two: create a reality for your novel.
When planning the reality of your novel, location can create fertile ground for conflict, with The Shining’s haunted hotel or Brontë’s brooding moors, just two examples. But just as the moors reflect Heathcliff’s personality, locations don’t have to be a vehicle for conflict, instead perhaps highlighting another aspect of the story’s reality, for example in Close Encounter, the train station location explores the metaphorical possibilities of the characters’ choices. The context of novels is also an important part of reality; publishers are expecting a tsunami of Covid novels, so whilst general advice therefore seems to be to avoid it, it’s a good example of how situation can impact story.
Step three: consider the obstacles for your protagonist.
Obstacles for your character are essential for their growth – their struggle is your story. Consider the conflict in your favourite film, novels or plays; within each one, there is a central question that must be answered – will the treasure be found? Will the rescue take place in time? Will they finally be together? Regardless of the genre, the central question has to be resolved by the book’s conclusion. Great novels have both internal and external conflict, so revisit again your protagonist’s weaknesses — what will they need to overcome personally to achieve their goal? Next, contemplate the denouement: what will be the most challenging situation for your characters… then look to increase the tension further, considering all influences such as political, environmental, social, and economic factors to create the highest possible drama.
Step four: The Way Forward.
Now you’re ready to start. How much you continue to plan is a matter of personal taste – some writers prefer a chapter-by-chapter breakdown whilst I prefer a clear understanding of the beginning and end points. But whatever you prefer, the key is to know who you’re writing about, why you’re writing about them, and what conflict needs to be resolved. Having a plan will help you keep going forward – and going forwards is the key to writing a novel. It takes a huge act of belief to keep coming back to your WIP day after day. If it helps, don’t write linearly – you could progress with the ‘puddle method’ and ignore the sequential order and instead write the scene you find most compulsive, before jumping into the next one… . But do keep going forwards — don’t look back and edit as you go, it can be too disheartening. It’s easier to improve a draft than improve nothing.
To grow a book only takes a seed of an idea, but a lot of dedicated nurturing. However, if you’re willing to spend the time, when we return to our usual world you’ll have a project firmly rooted in fertile ground. Happy growing.
(c) Kate Bradley
To Keep You Safe by Kate Bradley published by Zaffre Books 5th March 2020 Paperback Original and eBook £8.99
About To Keep You Safe:
For fans of What You Did and The Dilemma comes a nail-biting suspense thriller that asks: how far would you go to save a child that isn’t yours?
You don’t know who they are. You don’t know why they’re hunting her. But you know she’s in danger.
What do you do?
When teacher Jenni Wales sees 15-year-old Destiny’s black eye, she’s immediately worried. Destiny isn’t your average student: she’s smart, genius IQ smart, and she’s in care. But concern turns to fear when Jenni witnesses an attempt to abduct Jenni from school.
Who are these men and what can Destiny know to make them hunt her?
With those around her not taking the threat seriously, Jenni does the only thing she can think of to keep Destiny safe: she takes her.
Order your copy online here.