How do you start writing a novel?
The first thing I do is decide the genre and the setting.
I guess you saw some version of Return to the future. Here the settings are changing not because of location, but because of time period. Flashing backwards or forwards changes the appearance of the same location. The stage is new, right?
Genre is the type of novel you are writing. That could be a western, action, romance, detective, mystery, goth, or whatever you decide to dream of.
Science fiction would be another genre.
Did you notice a possible gender change in a version of Return to the future? The boy on the skateboard transformed into an armed Westerner. Well, it was still science fiction.
The stage is where the action takes place. If the action is in the present, you won’t have to do much research on the time period of the action. However, if the action takes place in 1850 or 130 BC, you should investigate that time period as it was done in Return to the future.
Once you’ve decided where the action will take place and in what time frame, you can define your characters. Here are some things to consider:
Does each character’s name match the location and time period?
Don’t call your raider Viking Joseph.
Treat Crazy eric or something like that.
What would your character’s language be?
If you lived in 1750 in London, what phrases would you use?
How would it sound?
That will depend on your class, right?
A London shoemaker wouldn’t sound like the Captain of the King’s Guard, would he?
And the king himself?
How would it sound? What vocabulary would you use?
Here’s a caveat:
Do not write a period novel if you are not willing to get the education and knowledge to write it.
The key to good writing is to write about what you know and understand.
Of course, if you’re writing science fiction, you can do whatever you want as long as it “rings true” to science fiction readers.
That is why the advice that is often given to writers is to read a lot in the genre in which they intend to write.
That’s one way to get an education, isn’t it?
If you knew a man in Walgreen in a tight-fitting silver jumpsuit with an antenna sticking out of a gold helmet, you would think: That guy is not from here!
If your character walks into a Wild West bar in 1850 in a green suit, you will have to give some explanations. I assume he’s Irish and will order a Guinness. Note: Guinness started in 1759, but I doubt you will find it in the Wild West in 1850.
Dress should be consistent, just as language is important. You need to know the local attire, not a stereotype dress you saw in a “B” movie.
Dress is also characteristic of vocation and class. A banker, a blacksmith, a miller, etc., would be dressed differently in the same place during the same period of time.
The early Texas settlers in Arizona could be told by their hats.
If your character is a nurse, you should know something about how a nurse performed in your location and during your time period.
Don’t let that soldier shoot someone with a Winchester during the War of 1812. Oliver Winchester was born in 1810.
Each character needs a story. A person’s history, at least in part, determines their actions. You may never mention such a story in your novel, but you should know it.
Each character needs characteristics. You may never mention most of them, but you should know about them. These are the things that, in combination, make your character different from all the other characters in the world. Take Superman, for example, or Henry VIII.
The bottom line is that all things must be coherent and logical if you want your novel to fly.
If something is strange, you have to give some explanations.
How to do an investigation
The easiest way to research is by reading in your genre.
I don’t like to read most novels. Therefore, I inquire about time and place.
I like to start with a map of the area. So I like to read the history of the area even before the given time period. I read history books, old magazine articles, Internet articles, etc. I like to visit the area and visit museums and historical societies. I like talking to people, especially veterans who have important stories to tell.
Go to bookstores, yard sales, book sales, junk shops, antique stores, and other places where you can buy magazines and books to listen to a song. Look at the things that antique stores are selling and ask about the history of unusual items. The way you do it is by saying this: What is that thing?
In a way, it’s a lot like being a newspaper reporter. I like to search old newspapers for interesting stories to see what other “reporters” have done.
Look in old encyclopedias, catalogs, and almanacs. You will be amazed at what you can learn.
When i was writing Vengeance on the Edge of Mogollon, I decided to read one of Zane Grey’s novels, whose setting was in the areas near my home in Arizona.
He knew something about Zane Gray because he was a guide and worked on exhibits for the local museum.
He hoped to help rebuild his cabin that was destroyed in the Dude Fire. However, I moved from the area (Payson, AZ) before that task began.
Anyway, I was reading your novel and a phrase occurred to me that did not seem correct to me. It was a view that his character saw from the Mogollon Rim. I didn’t think I did it right. I drove to the Rim and parked very close to the place he described. Then I saw that Zane Gray had described the sight to perfection. Mountains don’t move that fast.
It is a good idea to know your subject, your location (setting), and your characters before you start writing the novel. Well, don’t let that stop you. You can fill in the blanks later.
Just don’t let a bold character take over your book.
Writing, how to write, setting, characters, language, characteristics, history, time period, research.
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