So the day is upon us. I hope at least some of you have sharpened your pencils and made notes according to the suggestions I gave out in the previous post of this series. But if you haven’t, don’t fret. Today is the official start day, so if you haven’t done any work before this and you’d still like to come along for the ride, hop on. More the merrier.
First, the only ground rule that matters. Someone very smart once said that to be successful, you need three things: talent, luck and discipline. Only one of those three things – you can guess which one – is in your hands. So before we start, I want you to ask yourself whether or not you can dedicate 90 minutes every day to your novel. Times when you’re doing something and thinking of your novel don’t count. We’re talking of 90 minutes of just novel-time. I could give you ideas of how you can make it happen, but we’re all grown-ups here, right? If we want it enough, we will figure out a way to make it happen.
Right, if you’re still reading this (and I am assuming some of you are), then you’ve decided that 90 minutes a day is doable. For this first week, then, we will use this daily 90-minute window to make notes on three aspects of our novel:
This is your hero. This is the person that your readers will see the most of, hear the most from, care the most about. Write down things about your protagonist; at this stage don’t worry about structure and form and all that. Use this time to get to know your protagonist better. What does he look like? How old is he? Is he married? Does his daughter love him? Did he kill any of his two ex-wives?
Don’t worry if at first your protagonist appears bland and normal. Everyone is bland and normal at first glance. It’s only when you get to know a person that their character gets revealed to us. It’s same with your protagonist. The more time you spend writing about him, his life, his experiences, his future plans, his fears, the more he will reveal his complexity to you.
One of the things that you should begin to think about now is what your protagonist wants. Even if you don’t put it down in writing just now, start thinking about the one big thing that is going to drive your protagonist through the book.
Whatever I’ve said about the protagonist applies to the antagonist too. As a novelist it pays to be neutral and consider your antagonist to be ‘morally equal’ to your protagonist. The reason for this is that you don’t want to come across to your readers as biased. You may even want to treat your antagonist with sympathy. In Ayn Rand’s novel, ‘The Fountainhead’, Ellsworth Toohey is a definite antagonist, but he is portrayed with a lot of sympathy, even love, by the author. If you achieve something similar in your novel, your readers will respect you for it.
So for both your protagonist and your antagonist, you will need to write down their strengths, their weaknesses (physical, emotional and moral), their biggest wants and their biggest hurdles. And of course, you have to know their stories. Follow them, interview them, listen to what they say, watch what they do, pay attention, and just so you forget, make notes.
- Time and Place
This is the third most important aspect of your novel. On the face it appears like an easy thing to do: decide on a story time, decide on a story place, end of story. But you have to remember while doing this exercise that your protagonist and antagonist both belong to this world. There should be a certain amount of harmony between your characters and your setting. (For instance, you cannot have a pilot character in a novel set in Medieval England.)
One thing to be wary of: don’t be lazy with building your world. Take the time to make detailed notes on the important characteristics of your world. If your novel takes place in a house, you should know everything about it as though you’ve lived in it. If it takes place in a village or small town, you should know all the important landmarks the stories behind them, the people who gave rise to those stories, and everything else in between. Trust me, all this work will pay off when you begin to write your scenes.
So that’s it. The brief for Week 1 is to write 1000 words each on the three things above. I suggest you do them on three separate Word documents, or if you write in longhand, on three different notebooks. Remember that there are no rules here. Draw flowcharts, doodle, write poems, doodle – do anything that comes into your head, but stick to the three topics given here.
We will meet right here next week (May the 21st), same time.