Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Novels


FOREWORD


Creative Writing 101 articles serve as one of the academic courses in the field of Literary Theory and Literature. The course, which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of Literary Theory and Literature, also addresses students and the general readership alike. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Creative Writing by making the article merely an introduction.

Creative Writing 101 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

- Creative Writing 101: Into the Writer’s Creative Mind: Overview & Dynamics

- Creative Writing 101: Theorizing Creative Writing as a Discipline

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Poetry

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Short Stories

- Creative Writing 101: Insights on Writing Novels



In the last article of the Creative Writing 101 series, the focus was on the major components of writing novels—plot, character, and narrative voice. Firstly, an examination of these elements is significant to the comprehension of the mechanics behind writing fiction. Second, a brief overview of the academic novel compared to the "normal" novel, presented by the Australian novelist and academic Nigel Krauth, will be a subject for further discussion. Due to the rise in enrolment into Creative Writing PhD programs in English-speaking institutions during the 1990s, it has become more common to write novels by incorporating them in the academia. In this way, they go through supervisory and administrative procedures.


“It is not I who choose the story; the story chooses me . . . Writers imagine that they cull stories from the world […] That it’s actually the other way round. Stories cull writers from the world. Stories reveal themselves to us. The public narrative, the private narrative – they colonise us. They commission us. They insist on being told.” (Isabel Allende, pp. 164)


The Structure and Plot of the Novel


[Book cover of Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories (2005)]


In the first article of the Creative Writing 101 series, David Morley (2007) describes the blank page as “an open space” in any type of narrative, whether it is a flash fiction, a short story, or a novel. He qualifies the process of writing the story by “a four-dimensional landscape” that is created within that space, where “space and time become one—a continuum.” (Morley, 2007, pp.164). Hence, the fictional space created by the author embodies the structure or form of the novel. In attempting to characterize and define the structure of the novel, Morley (2007) refers to Christopher Booker who explains in The Seven Basic Plots (2004) that, generally, stories have similar forms, which is demonstrated by the fact that they are deeply inspired by what he calls “the contours of human development” divided into three stages: “initial success”, then comes “crisis”, and finally “success or failure.” (Morley, 2007, pp.165). Thus, it is within the structure of the novel that the plot is constructed throughout storytelling.


“The five-point structure pattern for novel which is most frequently cited goes: (1) inciting incident, (2) major climax around page 80, (3) midpoint crisis where underlying motives are revealed, (4) climax, (5) resolution.” (Rogers, 2007, p. 124).


[Book cover of John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist (2010)]



Jane Rogers (2007) provides more insights on how the plot is narrated in the narrative. She enumerates five basic alternatives that she thinks illustrate the dynamics of plotting in a novel perfectly: “chronologically, or backwards in flashbacks, or from the point of view of a minor player, or through conflicting points of view, or counterpointed with another story (or stories) altogether.” (Rogers, 2007, pp. 123). Furthermore, the plot of the novel has been the concern of many scholars and academics, whereby reflections on clichés of plot are numerous yet alike, explains Morley (2007), through the American novelist John Gardner’s opinion. For Gardner, writing novels is open to diverse plotting and that does not mean following a rather traditional plot, in which the main character is in a perpetual quest for what he/she seeks before reaching “a win, lose or draw”, is viewed as a non-creative or uninteresting alternative. On the contrary, it is far from such claim and it is proven in Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots (2004), where he exposes multiple types of plotting to be found in fiction.



“Christopher Booker suggests there are seven standard stories in the world that all fiction uses and recycles. These are summarised as ‘Overcoming the Monster’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘The Quest’, ‘Voyage and Return’, ‘Comedy’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Rebirth’, although Booker does extend the franchise to include ‘Rebellion Against “The One”’ and ‘Mystery’.” (Morley, 2007).


The Character(s) in the Novel


The elaboration of fictional characters needs to be prepared through a process of prewriting the story to be told, afterwards, in the novel. Morley (2007) suggests that the creation of characters has to take place before the writer engages him/herself in the story, for the prewriting stage is a preparation to be inside the characters’ mind. Characters are the essence of the story and any writer has to prepare what David Morley calls, “the character history”—"a notebook". A thorough description of the character needs to be included to facilitate the process of writing the story of the characters throughout the events in the novel. Description of “type”, “gender”, “age”, “name”, “relation to other characters”, “appearance”, “mannerisms”, “speech patterns”, “personality”, “background”, “private and professional life”, and also “strengths and weaknesses”, argues Morley (2007), are all attributes to consider and work on during the creative process of writing novels. Not to forget other important attributes given to the description of characters, such as “clothes”, “thoughts”, “likes”, “dislikes”, “body language”, “language and style”, and “personal habits”.


“Character is the heart and mind of your story—it is what makes it live.” (John Gardner, 2007, pp. 166).

Narrative Voice and Point of View in the Novel


“The writer needs to enter, imaginatively, into that character’s head; see as he sees, think as he thinks, feel as he feels.” (Jane Rogers, 2007, pp.120).


[Book cover of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2012)]



Writing novels goes through three commonly known narrative voices that are—first-person “I” or second-person “You” or third-person “He” or “She”. The choice of narrative voice and point of view in the creative writing process is made on purpose, serving the writer’s motives for telling the story. According to Morley (2007), the first-person “I” in the novel reflects either “the writer”, or “a person spinning a story”, or “the protagonist”, or “another character.” In addition to that, first person narrators are the most suitable narrative voices to recount a character’s life as they “offer the simulation of reality and utter subjectivity”, argues Morley (2007). Second person narrators, on the other hand, are less used by writers because it incites the narrator of the story to confront “a schizophrenic” version of him/herself while telling the story, explains Morley (2007). When it comes, finally, to third person narrators, the aim is to present the readership with an objective representation of the characters leading the story and so, the last type of narrative voice is defined as “a camera, recording only what is seen or heard and never engaging with the thoughts or feelings of characters.” (Morley, 2007, pp. 170).


The Academic Novel versus the Novel


Writing academic novels for Creative Writing PhD programs does not follow a creative and unlimited process of writing, it rather follows an academic procedure, whereby the PhD student is both guided and tutored by “a supervisor/editor” and “an administrator” for the completion of the academic novel project, explains Krauth (2008). In these terms, the academic novel is composed of the same narrative components, except for the themes or story to be told, as it has to go hand in hand with the faculty interest, therefore its purpose is rather “educational” and not only restricted to entertainment. Moreover, the academic novel is far different from the “normal” novel because it is open to “experimentation”, paving the way, thus, to a “hybrid form” of the novel. The aim behind writing an academic novel is to focus on the extent to which it is “examinable” more than “publishable”, argues Krauth (2018). Presumably, the academic novel is made of a minimum 95 up to a maximum 550 pages, with “an average length of 165 pages.” (Krauth, 2018). Last but not least, as much as the writing of academic novels is characterized by other features that are not to be found in “normal” novels—they are written “before, after or alongside an exegesis” (Krauth, 2018)—their writing procedures, however, are similar as they are based on doing research beforehand.


On the whole, for the novel writing process to be successful, it needs to be accompanied by a comprehensive understanding of the mechanics of writing fiction, most importantly the mastery of narrative voice or point of view, plot, and the creation of characters. Correspondingly, many contributions of academics and authors have been useful over the years for creative writers to accomplish their goals of writing books, novels, and academic novels. For instance, Writing Great Fiction by Pr. James Hynes serves as a course guidebook for writing fiction. Other literary contributions, such as Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction (2003), Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel (2000), and John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers (1983), are to be considered for further reading to improve creative writing skills.



Image Sources


Booker, C. & Continuum. (2005, November 11). [Book cover of Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories]. Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Basic-Plots-Tell-Stories-ebook/dp/B00OG4EAU2


Gardner, J. & Open Road Media. (2010, September 21). [Book cover of John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist]. Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Novelist-John-Gardner-ebook/dp/B00AB7NYZU


King, S. & Hodder Paperbacks. (2012, October 11). [Book cover of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft]. Amazon.co.uk. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Memoir-Craft-Stephen-King/dp/1444723251


References


Hynes, J. & The Teaching Company. (2014). Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques [Slides].Fcusd.org. https://www.fcusd.org/cms/lib/CA01001934/Centricity/Domain/3762/Writing%20Great%20Fiction.pdf


Krauth, N. (2008). The Novel and the Academic Novel. In G. Harper, J. Kroll, & Multilingual Matters Ltd (Eds.), Creative Writing Studies Practice, Research and Pedagogy (pp. 10–20). Multilingual Matters Ltd.


Morley, D. (2007a). The practice of fiction. In Cambridge University Press (Ed.), The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing (pp. 155–176). Cambridge University Press.


Rogers, J. (2007). Introduction to the Novel. In S. Earnshaw & Edinburgh University Press (Eds.), The Handbook of Creative Writing (pp. 116–125). Edinburgh University Press.


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Neyra Behi

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