As I have been preparing lessons for the Write Your Novel by Valentines Day - Your Way! course which begins November 1 at the Education Wants to be Free Learning Space. I am struggling to make it student driven, rather than instructor driven. By that I mean that I want to help the student approach the job of writing a novel in a way compatible with his or her own unique personality and still produce a quality product by the end of the course.
Over 30 years of teaching writing students, I've seen many who are confused about the "right" way to write just about anything. This is understandable. We all want to do things "right." However, we something confuse the "right" product with the "right" process.
Let me give you an example from a totally unrelated field - Magic. Back in my youth, I studied sleight of hand, card tricks and the like. In one popular trick, the magician displays a pack of cards to his audience. He asks a member of the audience to come forward and pick a card from the deck and show it to the audience and replace it in the deck. After some hocus-pocus, he lifts up the top card to show it is NOT the chosen card, then lifts it again to reveal the card has magically changed into the card picked by the volunteer.
You have seen this various times, often with a variation on how the card is revealed. The core trick, though, is bringing the card to the top of the deck. The interesting thing about this is that there are about 5 ways to do this. No, I won't tell you what they are, you can get the magic books and learn them yourself. Or maybe down the road, I'll teach an online magic course for beginners. But even an amateur magician doesn't casually reveal the secrets to the trade.
The point is that one book tells you one way to bring the card to the top of the deck. Another takes a different approach. You buy the trick at a magic store and you have yet another method. And so on.
The same is true of writing. The end product - a novel, short story, article, nonfiction book - must have certain characteristics when finished (the card must rise to the top of the deck regardless of the technique used). However, how you get there depends greatly on your personality.
Reading books on writing, though useful in many ways, can simply add to the confusion. I've read probably 50+ writing books over the last 30 years and if I include articles in Writer's Digest, The Writer, on blogs and websites, I probably read the equivalent of another 50 or 100 books in the 45 years since I first decided I wanted to write things other people would publish.
I've learned from each of them. I have also been confused by many of them. One book was all about plotting and the "proper" way to do that. Another I read, said "plot is an illusion." According to that author, plot is merely "the accumulated actions the character takes in resolving a problem." Hmmm... Sounds like a plot to me.
Most require very long and very detailed plot outlines, although the nature of those plot outlines varies greatly. Some look like snowflakes, some like wagon wheels, some are meandering paths, some are written on cards and shuffled, some are pages in a notebook. Each author has his "one-and-only" way to write an outline. Interestingly enough, I've been reading a book about novel writing by a fellow academic. She was discussing at great length about how important a detailed outline was to writing a novel, and if you didn't want to write one, then you simply should stop trying to write a novel. I was intrigued, since I write fairly limited outlines, and decided to look up and read one of her novels. To my amazement, she had not written a novel. In fact, aside from three short stories in literary journals and a handful of essays she had published nothing except this book on Novel Writing. Not only did a reputable company publish the book, they also sponsored her in an online writing class that has a $500 price tag!
Sometimes it is good to see the credentials of the person before you buy into their method. However, even established writers vary in their approaches to writing. I've read about some novelists who simply sit down and start writing with only a vague idea of where the story is going and produce best sellers. Others have massive, detailed outlines that they don't waver from. One author said he uses a slash-dash approach. He sits down puts a slash and a short description of what he is about to write and a list of things that need to be in that scene preceded by dashes. For instance:
/Carolyn and Mike join Jason for dinnerThen he writes that and creates another slash-dash block and that's how he writes a novel.
- he talks about his passion for lunar history
-he shows them his artifact collection
-alan shepherd's golf ball
-gives the collection to the college.
I guess the basic message is to be sure you find a technique which is right for you. Over the next three days, I'm going to talk about three common techniques for planning a novel, their advantages and disadvantages and how to decide which one is right for you.
BTW, in the shameless plug category. If you want a course that will help you optimize your own method of writing, consider Write Your Novel by Valentines day - YOUR WAY! being offered by Education Wants to be Free Learning Space. This 13 week course will take you through the process of writing a novel giving you a variety of options at each stage to find your own pathway to success. Plotters, Pantsers and Explorers will each find help in making their own personal approach work best for them.
You will be able to browse through the course materials for free during the course which begins November 1 as a guest. However, you will get the most value if you opt for either the Deluxe course (9.95) or the Premium (19.95) With the deluxe course you gain access to the instructor and other students through a discussion board and email. You also receive feedback on up to 25,000 words of your novel and a proposal. In the premium course, you will receive feedback on all assignments, 50,000 words of your novel and a proposal.