Look, we’ve all thought about it, and it can’t be that difficult, surely – there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, so unless you want to get fancy with your punctuation, that’s very manageable. Surely.
In my lifetime, I’ve made a start on over twenty novels. The only one I ever finished is better described as a novella, and it was about the misadventures of a sassy horse. It was thirty-seven pages long, and I was ten years old. It didn’t even break the bestseller list. But I’m no quitter, and so this year I’ve decided to try again. I’m going to write a novel. More specifically, I’m going to write a murder mystery novel.
Why this genre, you might wonder? Well, I’m not certain. Maybe I just like a good thriller (and that right there, folks, is the exact kind of aloofness one should aim for when writing a mystery novel. I’m basically halfway there). It’s more likely, though, that I’ve been listening to a few too many true crime podcasts lately, and now fancy myself a bit of an armchair detective. I may not have identified the Zodiac Killer just yet, but maybe I can do the next best thing – write about someone who identifies a wholly separate and entirely fictional version of the killer. Bada-bing, bada-boom.
Naturally, the first thing any young writer will do in order to hone their craft is seek out advice from the professionals. Having done this already, the main message of all these snippets of advice can be boiled down to “read a lot and write a lot”. What a trek. No, I’m joking (a little bit). There’s not enough time in the day to set aside for all that reading and writing, and so I’ve had to devise a way of creating more time. I’m still working on it. I’ve contacted some physicists, but they’re not responding to my e-mails.
After that, you need the elements of your story – things like plot, setting, conflict, and so on. In truth, I’m not a big fan of conflict, and I’d like if we could all just get along, but neither real life nor narrative storytelling work that way. Luckily, my central conflict is hidden in plain sight: someone went and got murdered. That’s a fairly big detail.
I decided to make mine a ‘character-driven’ plot, because that sounds like I know what I’m talking about, but also lets me create an interesting cast.
To make sure I don’t accidentally create what the internet calls a ‘Mary-Sue’ (or ‘Luke Skywalker’, for you film buffs) – a sort of self-insert – I’ve elected to give each of my characters glaring flaws. One of them, for example, murders people, and another pours the milk before the cereal.
All that being figured out, then, it’s time to write the thing. Time to get down to business. Time to buy some nice stationery, because you need that to write a novel, obviously. Time to put off starting your novel until you get into town and pick that up for yourself.
It’s not that I’m unmotivated – although it is a bit, because I’m lazy and it’s awful. It’s also that I’m… not sure. I’m not sure that I’ll be any good at this, although I know on an intellectual level that practice makes perfect. Maybe I’m scared to put so much effort into creating something, only to be never truly happy with it. Perhaps I leave the page blank in order to externalise the blankness of my imagination, my very soul?
Nah, I’m just lazy. It’s a good kick up the arse I’ll need to give myself if I want to be the next Agatha Christie, it seems. Half the goal of writing a novel is finishing it, and, now that my prologue has been written – yes, I actually did something! – there’s just a few hundred thousand words to go until I reach “the end”. It’s all about motivation, at the end of the day, isn’t it?
Resources for Writers
Based in Dublin, IWC helps both aspiring and established writers with resources including publishers’ details, courses, and national and international competitions.
Online channels such as TED are excellent sources of writing advice, from narrative-building to getting published. Also check out blogs and vlogs from successful writers.
Libraries and Bookshops
As well as books for research purposes, libraries and bookshops offer regular – and usually free – talks and events that aspiring authors may be interested in.
National Novel Writing Month takes place every November, and is a great way to get started. You can find more resources on their website, NaNoWriMo.org.