J. J. White is an award winning novelist and short story writer who has been published in several anthologies and magazines including, Wordsmith, The Homestead Review, The Seven Hills Review, Bacopa Review, and The Grey Sparrow Journal. His story, The Adventures of the Nine Hole League, was recently published in The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, #13. He has won awards and honors from the Alabama Writers Conclave, Writers-Editors International, Maryland Writers Association, The Royal Palm Literary Awards, Professional Writers of Prescott, and Writer’s Digest.
His crime fiction book, Deviant Acts, was released by Black Opal books in November, and will be followed by his Historical Fiction book, Nisei, in 2016. He was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his short piece, Tour Bus. He lives in Merritt Island, Florida with his understanding wife and editor, Pamela.
Constructing a Novel
Writing a book seems easy to most people who have never written a book. The same can be said for playing golf. All you have to do is hit the ball right? As a writer and golfer I know for a fact that neither endeavor is easy. They're difficult—very difficult. With seven million novels out there for sale that statement seems contradictory, but you have to take into account that most of those books are self-published. But if you insist on tackling your first novel here are a few literary building blocks below that may help you:
3. Narrative Arc
4. Character Development
5. Dramatic Question(s)
Writing a novel is a lot like constructing a house, you need a firm foundation to build on. Some authors claim they can just sit down to write and follow where the Muse takes them, but I think if you press them for more information, they have a pretty good idea where they're going with the story before they start the novel. An experienced author gets his or her ducks in a row. I don't necessarily mean they outline the entire novel but they at least organize thoughts, have a beginning, and know the ending.
I’ll discuss the five writing literary building blocks mentioned above by using my latest novel, Deviant Acts, as an example. The book started with an idea bred from letters my brother sent home from Vietnam during the war. I knew I wanted to tell his stories in the novel but I also knew there wasn't enough there to make a book.
So to construct a novel that would hold up from beginning to end I started start with the Theme. The overall theme I wanted to convey was that Vietnam veterans with PTSD can overcome their struggles and contribute to society rather than end up at intersections wearing ragtag uniforms and holding “God Bless” signs out to motorists.
Once that theme was worked out, I concentrated on a Plot, which including a life-changing event for the protagonist in the beginning, escalating trouble, and then a satisfactory conclusion, all of which follow the Narrative Arc.
The next step was Character Development. My protagonist was a composite of veterans I had met, but in order to really know him I conducted a mock interview with him. An example of a typical question would be: “What is the one thing you've done in your life that you regret the most?” His answer was: “Taking part in a village massacre in Vietnam” but your character might say they “Had an affair with their sister-in-law” or some other traumatizing event. Make up your own questions and answer them honestly, as if you were that character. And you should interview all of your characters to find out what they're truly about.
Another block to build on is the Dramatic Question or questions. In Deviant Acts, Jackson Hurst is hired by his evil aunt to rescue her twenty-year-old daughter and then kill her kidnappers. The first dramatic question is, “Will Jackson save his cousin and kill the kidnappers despite demons haunting him from the past.” That question can change as the novel progresses along with the protagonist’s goals. By the end of the novel there may be several dramatic questions that need to be answered.
So if you insist on trying to write the Great American Novel, create a solid foundation first with these literary building blocks to support all of your wonderful prose. Now close out Facebook and start writing.