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Harnessing Creativity in a Novel

Harnessing Creativity in a Novel


Perhaps because of its place in the history of literature, the novel is what most young writers think of in terms of form when they make the bold declaration that they want to be a writer. The Beatles' song "Paperback Writer" expresses it rather well: "It's a dirty story of a dirty man, and his clinging wife doesn't understand; it's based on a novel by a man named Lear. It took me years to write, won't you take a look? Cuz' I wanna' be----"

Maybe John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a slightly different view of the novelist from what we typically think of. Writers like Herman Melville, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and thousands of others may bristle at the "dirty story of a dirty man" part; but, on the other hand, those qualities that elevate the successful novelist in our thoughts to some esteemed pedestal as a thinker somehow above it all really do not exist.

For anyone who even has thought of writing a novel, the major challenges of this genre may seem intimidating. But that is what makes it a thrill and an achievement and so appealing to beginners. The novel seems epic, grand, vast in scale, important, monolithic. The writer needs, first and foremost, this key ingredient: a burning desire. This must be white hot, for without that need to create something worth reading, you will not be able to even begin, let alone finish, a completed novel.

A quiet place to work and lots of time in which to sit and write also are key ingredients for success. Noise and confusion only give the writer a reason to give up or procrastinate. Nothing is created when your senses are being short-circuited by outside forces: the television, the family and kids, radio stations blathering about the news, or fuss and bother with bills and rent. As with much that is written, a serious novel is a sort of hermitage, a solitude of words that calls for extended periods of concentration. Do not go down that path if you intend to create your masterwork in off-moments while working your job at the supermarket. Courageous, yes, but a bit naive.

Language is the host of a thousand dreams for the novelist. To be overly verbose or pedantic is a common shortcoming. A spontaneous lover of thought or ideas that can be expressed with feeling, the novelist gives readers a sense of movement of events that turns the page. How those words pour forth to show environment, a sense of place, a heart for the message or theme, the people and characters of a tale, and all the cornucopia of life is a task to which language is key, and the heartfelt author is as one planting seeds for a fruit grove only he understands.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online class in Creative Writing?

Building that sense of movement of events involves plot, character, dialogue, narrative, description, and all the traditional elements. Like any story you tell, that is what makes or breaks the story: keeping the reader, or publisher, or even an entire nation, interested enough to go on the journey along with the writer.

Every word or phrase in your novel needs to work effectively, comfortably, economically, and dramatically. It is a lot different from a screenplay, stage play, essay, or poem because the stature of the form brings its own weight, and the novelist's narrative has a much broader cultural and social group dynamic, or collective subconscious mythos. It is like the difference between a copywriter for a radio commercial for a new automobile insurance company and Moses writing the Bible. The literary world has no deeper qualities than those found in straightforward, epic-length narrative. This is the form we use to describe even the most momentous events in human history, so it brings with it that debt of words that can make even a mediocre novelist seem like a giant of letters.

Your own personal style for novel-writing will develop as you go along, and you will figure out how to say just what you were thinking or what you saw in your mind's eye of human events, wars, battles, struggles, kings, and princes. Your way with words here does not fall fully formed and ripe as if from a tree. You mature with the work you are doing. Any writer's first novel will be very different from his later works, as we might observe in the writing of Steinbeck, Vonnegut, King, and others.

A good writer here is selective and creates sharp images that his own inner eyes see in a hidden place within. Showing emotion and feeling in the characters makes readers curious about who these people are and what they are like and ultimately exposes some aspect of themselves. Being a good storyteller takes intellect, but the lofty ideals must be balanced with childlike innocence, wonder, and courage. Good fiction like this can be intellectually and emotionally significant and remain with readers for a lifetime, so never scoff at the novelist's "dirty story of a dirty man."

To encourage this writing process requires digging into that creative root that comes in an almost trancelike state, in which words spill forth as if from a water spigot. If you can just let the juices flow, the wisdom you find within yourself might amaze even you. That special time for a writer can be the defining moment when our dreams are harnessed. It is a wonderful connection to the soul as the writer's spirit transcends meaninglessness and reaches others as they read his words.

So, novelists learn to depend on themselves for approval and support, and not others. Often in childhood, the novelist may have learned to find comfort in his or her own fantasies or the voice of a comforting friend, parent, or beloved teacher. It also helps if novelists find themselves with one or more loved ones who believe in their gift as they make their way down the long, tiresome road to a completed work.

Unlike the short story writer or the poet, this type of writer needs the endurance and pace of a marathon runner and a taste for the monumental. Writing the novel may take years. Even beyond the finish line, the long-term investment may or may not pay off. It is easy to get lost in developing characters and creating scenes that move fluidly along, as one may be lost in life, the universe, and everything that touches a person.

However, to be lost or found on this voyage, to write a novel for others to share and remember, is a great thing.
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