Have you ever wanted to experience the world from a different perspective than your own? Live deep in an urban jungle, or on a farm surrounded by sheep? Grow up on a wildlife preserve, or come of age sailing the seven seas? Writing a novel is about shedding your identity and inhabiting the experiences of an imagined character. But a novel also requires looking inward: drawing upon your own experience and interior life to find elements of the human condition that you can offer to your fictional characters. This month, explore the human experience through realistic fiction, and share an excerpt with us.
Novels hinge on well-developed characters. All the rest of it—the plot, the setting, the language—mean little if the reader doesn’t experience the fictional world through a character that feels real and relatable.
- Make your characters three dimensional. Rather than thinking of your characters as either “good” or “bad,” or protagonists or antagonists, consider every character to have both flaws and gifts… just like real people… just like you and me.
- Give your characters idiosyncrasies. Does your character have a habit of pulling on his beard when he’s nervous? Does she absent-mindedly feed the cat morsels off her plate? Particular details not only reveal personality, but they also make a character come to life.
- Reveal internal and external worlds. Sometimes, particularly if the events in the narrative are exciting, it’s easy to forget that what’s happening outside of the character is only half the story. The inner world can be just as rich and just as telling, if not more so. What is your character thinking? Imagining? Feeling? What are they worried about? Preoccupied by? What do they wish for?
You can find more excellent character tips in our Ask Michael
At its most basic level, the plot refers to the sequence of events that make up the story you’re telling in your novel. But the writer is not simply recording every experience a character had in chronological order. Instead, writes Janet Burroway, “a plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance.” It’s up to you, dear writers, to pick and choose what happens in the life you’re imagining, what pieces to include in your novel, and in what order
. You’ve likely heard of the narrative arc: the progression of a story as it moves from introduction to inciting incident (the first hint of a problem) to rising action to climax to falling action to resolution. Well, this one-size-fits-all sequence makes it seem like all novels follow the same path. Not true! We much prefer NaNoWriMo’s
metaphor of a rollercoaster: “As you probably know, not all rollercoasters have the same track. They all have different hills and drops, twists and turns, and loops and tunnels. The same goes for novels.... Sometimes they begin with the inciting incident or work backwards from the resolution to the beginning. Novels are filled with flashbacks, flash-forwards, and unexpected plot twists.”
For almost all fiction, the setting helps the reader to enter the narrative. With the first few words of the novel, the reader begins to form a mental picture—who the characters are, how they sound, where they are
. The details of place allow the reader to imagine the characters in action. How convincingly a writer captures a place is also one of the ways that she builds credibility with the reader. Do your research: If your story takes place on the coast of Ecuador, know the names of the trees, which snakes worry the farmers, and when the wet season sweeps in. Setting can also provide a sense of mood. A description of place can be gloomy and flat or buoyant and loud. And one more thought, dear writers: because we are a global community, your readership is global, too! This means your setting doesn’t need to be “exotic” to be interesting. In fact, describing the seemingly mundane could be quite otherworldly to one of your readers. Dogwood stems turning neon orange in winter! A river the color of chocolate milk! Sandstorms in August!
Dear writers, we won’t pretend otherwise: writing a novel is hard work. It's a long, arduous road from beginning to end, which is why novel writers need all the camaraderie and inspiration they can get. And that means helping each other when the going gets tough—reaching out and offering a kind word or helpful suggestion on an early draft. “Writing is better when it’s together”, we like to say. If you’re looking for a review, someone else is too…pay it forward!
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-18
is a prominent author, academic and human rights advocate. She was nominated for Sweden's 2019 Astrid Lindgren Award, the world's biggest children's and young adult literature award. She is an award-winning author of eleven novels, published and translated in over 20 countries. Randa writes across a wide range of genres and seeks to translate her academic work into creative interventions which reshape narratives around race, human rights, multiculturalism and identity in popular culture.
Our Partner - The Boston Authors Club
We are excited to partner with The Boston Authors Club (BAC)
to bring you our Novel Writing Competition this month. The BAC was founded in 1899 to encourage discussions of writing and literature among Boston-area authors and book lovers. Over one hundred and twenty years later, the BAC continues to pursue its mission to further literary purposes and to promote community, discourse and fellowship as an independent nonprofit. The Boston Authors Club welcomes authors, readers, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and everyone who wants to celebrate and support literature to participate in our events and programs.
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
- Best Entry: $100 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the winning piece, and an interview with the author will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Runner up: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the piece will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Best Peer Review: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the best peer review and an interview with the reviewer will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
- Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
- Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday, November 9 and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
- November 2: Competition Opens
- November 9: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
- November 13: Reviews returned to Writers
- November 17: Final Submissions Due
- November 27: Winners Announced
Our Creative Nonfiction Competition opens Monday, November 23rd.
Stay tuned for more details!
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