Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
- Barbara Kingsolver
For anyone who has a desire to write a novel, this is a good question to ask: Why do it?
Then, ask yourself this: What is my underlying motivation for writing novels or this particular novel? To put it even more succinctly: Why am I writing this?
First, a caveat: The most important thing as Bernard Cornwell advises is to get the story right. The job of a fiction writer is to entertain and tell an intriguing story. The point of this article comes after you got the story right. It's a sprinkle on the cake, but I do think the sprinkle will make your story go from good to great.
In writing my thesis, I found out that answering the above question really helped me to focus not only on clarifying my thesis statement, but it also gave me a kick in the bum when I needed it. I feel that many times, people rush into the idea of writing a novel because they think it would be grand fun, or they feel they have such a great interest in something that it warrants a novel. Perhaps, it is a crowning achievement of all their years of study and now they wish to let loose into the realm of fiction. Perhaps, they are obsessed with the writer's lifestyle and wish to pursue that full-time.
These are valid desires, but they shouldn't be the main motivation for writing a novel. I believe that writing a novel should add something new to the current genre or readership. That is, after all, the meaning of the word novel.
Novel means something new and different
Well, what is new and different you might ask? Oh so many things can be new and different and here is a short list:
- Telling a story in a way that is unique, and to do that one usually has to be extremely well read in the choice genre. What hasn't been told or at least hasn't been told in awhile?
- Let's say you're writing paranormal romance and that genre has been flooded. How do you write something new and different? Well you first need to read a lot of paranormal romance to see what's been done already, and then get creative with the genre. Perhaps even better is to stay away from a recently flooded genre unless your story really can shine. The last thing you want to do is write another Twilight book.
- Use some sources that no one else has really used. The best way to come up with ideas is to be inspired, and what better way to be inspired for a writer than to read. Dig deep into your research. I love to read non-fiction for my fiction writing. I write historical fiction and there is no better way to find interesting story settings and plots than to read real history.
- The most unique aspect of any writer is their own voice. That can be new and fascinating in itself even if the plot is not that new. Finding one's voice is a matter of practice and more practice. Of writing, finding what works and what doesn't, then seeking help, learning mechanics, and developing to the point where your voice comes through despite all of the behind-the-scenes work. Think of a musician you love and then think about all the mundane aspects of learning an instrument, but then think of how they take those mundane aspects and turn it into something awesome when they add their flare, creativity, soul. It is their spin on the genre they are playing. It's the life they bring to the genre. Now, we all know as conscious consumers if the musician or writer isn't really giving us gold, and gold is what is expected.
What is novel about my Novel?
The Lotharingian Chronicles seeks to tell a generational story about the First Crusade and the formation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The People's Crusade is the first book in a trilogy which concentrates on the lesser known People's Crusade, a crusade led by a traveling monk named Peter the Hermit. I remember learning about this in one of my history classes and thinking to myself that it would be awesome to read a historical fiction account of this. One of my main sources is a primary source that I just love and was hard to find. I doubt it has been used in this manner. My hope is that readers will get a deeper understanding of the mechanics and motivations behind the Crusades and a better sense of all its complexities.
Now go be novel yourself!