How to Write a Novel

This week I started my online course: “How to Write a Novel: Structure & Outline.

It’s a non-credit course offered via edX through UBC’s Creative Writing program. The instructors (pictured above) are Annabel Lyon (who wrote the wonderful books “The Golden Mean” and “The Sweet Girl”) and Nancy Lee. It’s a six-week course with video lectures, weekly assignments, discussion forums and virtual “Office Hours” given via Google Hangouts.

I signed up because my book needs more structure (and so do I!). I have rewritten the first third of the book a few times now, each time making major (necessary) changes, but it’s so easy to get muddled in the middle. I originally only had one character telling the whole story, but now my other main character is stepping forward and narrating her own action, so my novel has become even more complicated.

Apparently, this course will help me create a scene-by-scene outline of the ENTIRE book I’m writing, then I can follow that roadmap to “fill in” the chapters. Sounds great, right?

This week, the course focussed on character motivation (how well do I really know my main characters? Less well than I thought), plus recognizing “antagonists” (inner and outer obstacles) and doing some “world building” (i.e. setting, which is pretty established for me). This week’s assignment was to put myself in my character’s shoes and complete a “self-questionnaire” to consider/create more depth and backstory. Some of the questions were straight-forward, like “How old are you?” and “What’s your favourite item of clothing?” Others took some real reflection, such as “Who is your least reliable friend?” and “Name three personal heroes/role models.”

My only concern with this course is that I’m not actually “writing”! It feels strange to put so much time and energy into planning, since I usually plan a bit, write a bit, plan a bit, write a bit. While I am committing to this course and this new process, I find myself missing the energy of drafting a new scene and having my characters come alive on the page. I may have to “cheat” on my novel and spend some time with one of my unfinished short stories in order to get that literary thrill of creation, since I don’t think I can go without for the next six weeks!


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