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So you want to write a novel?



So you have decided to write your first novel? I want to give you some hints. But, remember, I am not being prescriptive! Take it as an ordinary friend’s advice. One of the very loose theories of novel writing is the following statement: Crisis drives the novel. It means that when conceiving a novel, you may begin with a character, give your character a crisis or problem. This crisis should be something that your character wants very intensely in his life or something that your character is fighting against throughout the length of your novel. It really has to be a big thing for it to sustain a whole novel. Then you may create reasons why your major character will find problems solving this crisis, for example the desires of people around him, his desires elsewhere, etc. Also involve his internal conflicts. The other thing is that before you start on the actual writing, you normally jot down a storyline or plot or what you may call a crisis statement. Here is an example of a storyline or plot with a real crisis that could be sustained at novel length: A young man of 20 is facing problems with the Bishop who accuses him of enrolling into the seminary to escape being called up into the national army and to be safe from the atrocities of war. The Bishop constantly beats up and punishes the young man severely for very small offences like lateness and failing to memorise biblical verses. One day, while serving a punishment at the Bishop’s pulpit, the young man accidentally breaks some candle stands he was polishing. In trying to conceal this crime, he realises that inside the candle, there are inscriptions in what sounds like Latin or Spanish, which he reads loudly. Unknown to him, these inscriptions are meant to call demons and the demons come and claim that the young man is now their new master. The young man decides to escape home to his parents for help. He takes with him the candle stands aboard a train. He, however, has no adequate fare and decides to sell some of the candle stands to a blue eyed girl whom he meets on the train. On arriving home, he finds no one except one of the demons which boastfully points to its belly and says, “Boy, your mom and dad are in here…” The demon goes on to tell the young man that it cannot be exorcised unless the young man finds the sold candle stands. In these candle stands are Arabic inscriptions meant for the exorcising. However, the demon dearly promises the young man that it will not allow itself to be exorcised and will kill and eat up anyone who tries to help the young man. The young man starts to search for the blue-eyed girl and gets information that the train had an accident and the girl did not reach her destination. He later finds her in a hospital. The candle stands had been sold to a Russian sailor who was coming from China on his way to America! All she remembered was that the sailor had a scar on his left cheek and had slurred speech. The demon eats up the blue-eyed girl and the young man realises that he is wanted by the police in connection with the disappearance of the girl from the hospital. The young man, with resignation, decides to go back to the seminary to seek the help of the Bishop. He is received with great bitterness and almost everyone accuses him of putting the seminary and the church in disrepute. He also realises that he has a case to answer in relation to the theft of the candle stands from the Bishop’s pulpit. The Bishop teams up with the young man in search of the candle stands. On finding the sailor, they are told that he had sold them to an African curator who collects artefacts. The African curator was still in the same small American town but had sold the candle stands to a local museum. He tells them that he had taken away the inscriptions from the candle stands and filed them in his apartment. Finally the young man and the Bishop recover the candle stands after paying a heavy restitution fee to the museum. The demons are exorcised and the boy is re-enrolled into the seminary where he reunites with his old friends. What you see above is a wonderful plot/story line. It allows the author to write a real novel. Now practice makes perfect, so practice to write your own plots from now on. While you are still there, remember that there is something called the traditional plot structure of the novel. It is the presentation of the stages that a novel normally goes through as shown below: Status quo: This is the part of your novel where you introduce the protagonist. This is sometimes called the exposition. The inciting incident: it is a section of your novel which deals with that which happens to change the life of the protagonist forever. This could be the introduction of the crisis. The first turning point: it is that point in your novel where you deal with the second crucial event or development that changes the views or feelings of the protagonist towards his problem/crisis. Sometimes it is pretence towards calm/peace. The second turning point: it is a section of your novel where another, even at a higher level occurs and gives the protagonist higher desire/inertia to change his circumstances totally. A good novel may even have a third turning point! The climax: this is a point in the novel where something occurs and leaves the protagonist with the option to either fight or flee. This is called the moment of truth or the point of no return. The resolution: is a collective outcome of the climax and the stages before it. This is reached when the protagonist grapples with the climax. In this part of the novel there are suggestions towards a resolution of sorts. Now, on your own, try to work with the storyline of the young man with the candle stands to find out which part of that storyline is status quo, the inciting incident, the first turning point, the second turning point, the climax and the resolution. You could then finally compose your own novel storyline showing where it touches the traditional plot structure of the novel. As you may already know, a good novel has what is called a sub-plot. This is a subsidiary story which technically coincides with the major story in order to highlight it through comparison, opposition, parallelism etc. The sub-plot reinforces the major plot, magnifying certain themes and it awakens the reader’s interest in the main plot. It is concerned with the minor characters that advance the story etc. It is also called the counterplot, the under plot or the secondary story, or simply story B, story C, etc. It is a secondary plot to the main plot, acting as a foil to the main plot, a relief from the main plot, a supporter of the main plot, an opposer of the main plot, etc. A good sub-plot has to be interwoven with the main action of the main plot. It may actually intersect with the main plot at the climax. Now, you may already know that novels come in many forms and below are the most common one with writers. Detective novel: Often called crime fiction, the detective novel carries a crime that has been committed and a detective or the police or a private individual tries to unravel the crime and the criminal. A detective novel is a novel whose story plot revolves around the investigation and solving of a crime. The primary concern of the plot is to ascertain the truth and the usual means of obtaining the truth is a complex and mysterious process. The process combines intuitive logic, astute observation and perspicacious inference. Early detective stories tended to follow an investigating protagonist from the first scene to the last, making the unravelling a practical rather than emotional matter. A good example of a detective story is the ongoing Telemundo series called The Search for Frida. Gothic novel: The term Gothic novel broadly refers to stories that combine elements from horror and romanticism. The Gothic novel often deals with supernatural events or events occurring in nature that cannot be easily explained or over which man has no control, and it typically follows a plot of suspense and mystery. Historical novel: It is a novel that reconstructs history imaginatively. It is a novel that is set in a moment of history and attempts to convey the spirit, manners, and social conditions of that age with realistic detail. The work may deal with actual historical personages, as does Yvonne Vera’s Nehanda. It may contain a mixture of fictional and historical characters as in Alexander Kanengoni’s Echoing Silences. More often it attempts to portray a broader view of a past society in which great events are reflected by their impact on the private lives of fictional individuals. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Regional novel: It is a novel that uses a known area thoroughly. The regional novel is a genre of fiction that is set in a recognisable region. It describes features distinguishing the life, social relations, customs, language, dialect or other aspects of the culture of that area and its people. Many novels in indigenous languages of Africa could be called regional novels. The characters are marked by their adherence to the old ways, by dialect, and by particular personality traits central to the region. Psychological novel: is a work of fiction in which the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of characters are of equal or greater interest than is the external action of the narrative. In a psychological novel the emotional reactions and internal states of the characters are influenced by and in turn trigger external events. Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger is a good example of a psychological novel. The only physical space that is travelled realistically is the journey from the point the nameless major character (who is the narrator throughout) packs all his things, leaves the house in anger and goes to the nearby pub. From that point onwards, the story goes ahead in series of the narrator’s reminisces, colliding in and out of one another. At each point when an old acquaint ant comes into the pub, the narrator takes us back to his old days with him or her, but always coming back to the present. In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, a group of people plan to sail in a small boat to a lighthouse. At the end some of them reach the lighthouse in a small boat. That is the externality of the plot. But what mattered to Woolf, far more than any strong story line, was her presentation of how individuals see and experience life. The proper stuff of fiction does not exist. Everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss. Epistolary novel: is a novel in letter form. This comes from epistle which means letter. An epistolary work of literature is one written through a series of documents. Most often, these documents are letters, though they can also be diary entries, newspaper clippings, and, more recently, blog posts and emails. Epistolary novels can be further classified into three very broad groups. First, there is the monologic epistolary novel which is made up of letters or diary entries from only one person throughout, with no responses from the recipient as in The Colour Purple and Letters to My Sister. The first it is based on “absence” necessarily because “the letter writer is separated from the receiver.” The second key characteristic is time because the epistolary novel necessarily has to deal with chronology of events. It also has to deal with exchange due to correspondence. The epistolary novel is also characterised by reflexity due to the dominant use of the first person narrator. The anti-novel: is an experimental novel in which the conventions and traditions of the novel genre like character development, the realistic description of society, and, especially, a clearly developed narrative are deliberately de-emphasised or rejected are studiously avoided. These novels actively seek out ways to stand out from what readers are traditionally familiar with. They use these techniques, and others, as a way to suggest that there should be no standard for literature. There are many different ways to tell a story. So, dear writer, think through your work and get down to business!

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