How to Skin a Novel
Writing a novel is hard. Like really hard. Those things are long. And they have so many words. And pages. And the characters keep wanting to go off and do things that aren’t in the outline. Stupid characters. But you have to let them breathe, because, like, otherwise they’ll commit fictional suicide or start murdering all your other characters and then everyone is just dead at the end of your story. Which, I guess, sort of worked for Hamlet. But ideally you want some people left alive at the end. Anyway, tangent over. Let’s get to the post.
Ever wonder the different ways of skinning a cat? Er…I mean novel. Where did that expression come from anyway? Why are there people who want to skin a cat? And why do they need multiple ways to exact the skinning of a cat???? Moving on. There are different ways to write a novel. I’m going to talk about them in this blog post. They can also apply to short stories, or novellas, or any other length of writing. They could even work for non-fiction. But, tangents aside, here are the different ways of writing a novel:
Stream of Consciousness
Stream of consciousness is an actual literary technique coined by William James in 1890. It is when the writer tries to mirror what the characters are actually thinking, rather than making things easier to understand for the reader. That is not to say that the writer is trying to make it hard for the reader, but that the writer is trying to represent the actual thought process. That is, what the characters are actually thinking in the moment. If you’ve ever read William Faulkner, he uses this technique in his stories. As does Virginia Woolf. Although be warned about Faulkner. He likes to write paragraphs that are pages long, and sentences that are paragraphs. Yes, you read that right. He really adheres to the stream of consciousness thing. If you want to try this method for your characters, go for it. But in regards the actual novel writing, I mention this technique more for you, then for your characters. What I mean is, you just sitting down and letting whatever comes out of your head flow onto the page or the screen. Letting your hands just clicky-clacky, or scribbly-scribble without worrying about which character is doing what. Letting your stream of consciousness make its way onto the page. In short, don’t censor what you write, just let it be.
I don’t have a fancy background info for this technique. I’m not sure who started it, but I’m trying it right now with one of the novels that I’m working on. I’m writing about a Christian who got kicked out of his house by his parents for doing drugs, and I’m writing it in scenes. Instead of starting at the beginning of the novel, I’m writing out the scenes that I plan to put in the novel. And I don’t mean as an outline, I mean the actual writing of the scene. Like when the main character and his girlfriend are homeless on the street and they run into another homeless kid. I would write that scene out until it came to an end. The benefit of this technique is that you’re not waiting to get to a scene that you really want to write. This can also help with writer’s block because you’re working on the scenes you already have in mind and not trying to figure out what happens before you get to those scenes. I haven’t finished the novel, so I don’t know how well this method will work, but I’m thinking it might end up like one of those books that don’t really have “proper” chapters, and just have a bunch of “sections”.
This is from those writers (like Stephen King) that say (as the subtitle suggests) you should write 2000 words a day. Like chain yourself to the chair and don’t you move until those 2000 words are done or the world will implode. I guess this isn’t so much a method of writing as a how to get that novel written. But I think it belongs on this list. Because this is a way of writing a novel. If you sit down, and just write until you hit 2000 words, then your novel will get written eventually, even if it’s epically long, as in the 200 000 word category. Suffice it to say, this method is more about putting in your time, and living with the characters each day. Letting the novel become a daily part of who you are, so much so that you begin to blur the line between reality and fiction, and later you’ll say something to someone that didn’t actually happen, and eventually they’ll commit you to a psychiatric ward. But don’t worry, you can make up all the stories you want there, and no one really cares if they’re real or not. Anyway, 2000 words a day equals novel will indeed be skinned in time.
Less Words a Day…Maybe
Was going to call this one “short bursts” but decided not to. It’s basically the opposite of the one just mentioned. Some people have issues sitting still for a long time, or coming up with a lot of words at one time. So they write less words at a time. Instead of writing until you hit 2000, write for a half hour, or twenty minutes, here and there throughout the day. Sometimes half an hour is all you can give. And that’s okay. Despite willing time to stop, it doesn’t. And if you have figured out a way to do that, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.
I call this one Ernest Hemmingway, because it is fashioned after his style of writing. The way he would write a novel, is he would write a bit, then the next day before he started writing again, he would read over what he wrote, and then continue. He claimed this kept the characters consistent. Then after the book gets too long to read everything from the beginning, just read the last few chapters and read the entire book once a week. I’m trying this method with a novel I’m working on about a woman who is in an abusive relationship, but is also a murderer, as is her abuser. I find that I like this method, and it helps to edit as you go, but this method takes time. Reading over what you wrote can be beneficial, but if you only have an hour or so of writing time, most if not all of that time gets taken up by rereading. I think this method would be best used if writing was your day job, or if you could afford to spend hours at a time writing.
This method isn’t really about the actual writing, but I include it here because it’s pretty close. Some authors like to plan things out before they write. Like really plan. I’m talking chapter numbers, and scene outlines, and putting their character from kindergarten into an Ivy League school. They know what is going to happen so there will be no surprise or death shall rain down upon the fictional creatures who dared oppose the Author God. Okay. Not quite like that. But suffice it to say, they plan out the scenes that are going to be included in the novel, rather than just winging it and going with the flow.
Winging it and Going with the Flow (not that kind of flow)
Basically the opposite to the one above. No plan. No outline. No will for the characters. Just going with the flow and letting the characters go where the characters want to go. If Sally wants to shoot Bill with a gun three weeks after marriage, then Sally can shoot Bill with a gun three weeks after marriage. Mind you, Bill isn’t too happy about this turn of events, but the writer will not intervene because they choose to give the characters free will.
A combination of the Outline Happy, and the Winging It. Does this really need an explanation? Oh, alright. Basically you write a glorified summary of what is going to happen and then you kind of put it in a box and don’t look at it again until later. You might also make character profiles, which I found can actually help when trying to remember how you wanted your characters to be and act.
This method I find to be great for starting stories, not so much for finishing them. Essentially, you get an idea, and you run with it. You move those fingers and you write those words, because the muses are speaking to you and filling you with wonderful word heaven. And then you stop because you are no longer inspired and have completed the vision. Then you wait until you are inspired to write again. Which could take a long time. Which is why this method is great for starting, when you get that first spark of an idea, but not so much for actually finishing the novel, unless you’re totally okay with it taking a really long time. Which if you are, cool for you.
Regardless of which method you choose (and you can choose more than one, mind you), do what is right for you. Experiment with all of them. Or stick to one if you really like it. Or merge them together. There is no right or wrong way to write a novel, as long as you are actually writing the novel. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that every method will work for you, it just means that there is no one right way to do it.
Which methods of writing have you tried, and which is your favourite?