So you’re thinking about writing a novel. That’s great. But where do you start? There are sooooooo many different approaches. I recently spoke with Akron resident and novelist Jim Woods all about this topic. My questions are all below in bold.
So let's say you want to write a novel? What do you recommend to someone when they are ready to get started?
Well, in order write a novel, you need a story. And it is often helpful to figure out whatever part of the story you know. Maybe you don’t know much. That’s totally fine. I think asking some simple questions until you figure out the main idea of the story. A few questions you can ask include: what do you want to write about? What's the genre? What other stories inspire you? As you answer these questions, they start to come together to form what I call the “story seed.” Everything in your novel grows from it. In time, with water, light, and lots of attention, the story seed turns into a fully developed story.
Sure! For example, the story seed for Breaking Bad was “Mr. Chips turning into Scarface.” During the 80’s and 90’s, many movies used the movie Die Hard as the story seed. For the movie Speed was “Die Hard on a bus.” The Sly Stallone movie Cliffhanger was “Die Hard in the mountains.” There are many, many different examples of story seeds. Here are a couple more. Reservoir Dogs is a heist movie where you don’t see the heist. The Godfather is the story of a war hero becoming the leader of crime syndicate.
What if you're not sure about the concept of the story seed? What should you do then?
I’d recommend that you look at a few of your favorite movies or books to figure out if there is a common theme. For example, I love revenge stories and stories that primarily feature antiheroes. It’s no surprise I like writing gritty crime novels. It's really important to be really honest with yourself. If you want to write a James Bond-like spy novel, just admit it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to write a novel. Remember, you can always revise. Don’t be afraid to be wrong! The two things that will stop you from writing a novel are self-censorship and perfectionism. You can always fix things in the revision process.
I know that writers are often known as outliners or pantsers (meaning you write by the seat of your pants). Which are you?
Honestly, I'm a bit of both. I like to create a simple one page outline with some general ideas on it. Steven Pressfield calls this one-page general outline the “The Foolscap Method.” He just writes down the main ideas and concepts on one page of paper, a piece of foolscap. It's as simple as starting with three acts. You can also call this Beginning, Middle and End. I just use that to create a story. It's kind of like the blueprints for a story. I just start jotting down the idea and then the rest is just filling in the gaps.
Okay, once you've got your foolscap, what's next?
It's honestly just showing up and doing the work, even when you’re confused and not sure what you’re doing. The more time you spend working on your book, the more your story seed grows. It’s that simple. When you don’t show up, your story seed is more likely to stop growing. As your story seed grows, your confidence grows too. Over time, you’ll start to see the growth and know that it is just a matter of time until you finish your novel.
Thanks so much to Jim for sharing these thoughts with me. His first novel is coming out soon and you can connect with him here. Have you ever thought of writing a novel? If so, how did it turn out for you?