When it comes to writing down your story, one of the first things you have to decide is who your narrator is? This is also known as “point of view”. In other words, from whose viewpoint are you’re seeing the story unfold?
There are three main viewpoints you can take the story through:
- First person – this is when the story is told from a single person’s point of view. The text is all about ‘I saw this’ and ‘I did this’ and ‘I felt this’ instead of ‘Mary saw it’ or ‘Mary did it’ or ‘Mary felt sad’. You know how your character is feeling and what they are thinking. It’s almost like you are in their head seeing, hearing, tasting and feeling everything they do.
- Third person – that’s when you are seeing the main character from outside of themselves (this is where ‘Mary saw it’ or ‘Mary did it’ or ‘Mary felt sad’ comes in). You won’t know how your character is thinking or feeling unless you can ‘see’ it written on their faces, hear it in what they say or see it in what they do.
- Omnipotent or God viewpoint – normally a story will only follow one character. When you are taking an omnipotent viewpoint, you know what everyone is doing and feeling. You follow each of the main characters as they go on their quest. This can often be quite a difficult thing to master and you have to be quite skilled to be able to pull it off.
Just to confuse things, it is possible to have more than one narrator or viewpoints in any of these methods. You could write your book from more than one viewpoint. For first person, you could do a chapter in one person’s point of view and another in a second person’s point of view. In third person, there may be three or four viewpoints being shown…be careful as this can be quite tricky. Likewise for omnipotent.
In the Victorian era, it was a popular trend to write a novel from many viewpoints using methods such as ‘diary entries’, ‘letters’ and ‘interviews’ with different characters.
Okay, so let’s go on to plot. Basically, plots go like this: you have your main character or characters, they come up against some sort of conflict or problem, lots of difficulties happen and then there is the resolution and conclusion (your happy ending). If you are planning to write a series of books, you may want to leave a cliff-hanger at the end of the novel.
There’s often an underlying sub plot in novels which adds to the richness of the book. In the end, the sub plots should tie in with the main plot. Watch out that it or they don’t overwhelm the book or become so complicated that they overwhelm you.
Your subplot might include your character finding something out about themselves or another character that shocks them. Maybe they discover some sort of hidden talent or there may be something in their background that doesn’t become important until nearer the end of the story.
Weave in other elements or threads to ensure that your story is believable: describe what the character sees, hears, tastes, smells, feels…but don’t over-describe or you’ll end up boring your reader. We’ll look more into the senses in another chapter.
Ensure your text flows: read your text aloud and see what works and what doesn’t. If you stumble over any words, so will your readers and you’ll not only lose pace, but possibly your reader too.
Ensure the ending is complete and that all the loose ends are tied up…unless you’re planning a sequel in which to do that. If so, you may just want to leave some things hanging to excite your reader about the next book.
Planning your story
Write your plot synopsis in a notebook, and then write up each individual chapter. I usually have a rough idea as to how the story will develop. Sometimes I get there, sometimes halfway through I think up a better ending.
To help you plot your story, use mind mapping, flowcharts and spider diagrams, a blackboard and chalk – anything that helps you get your thoughts together in a way that makes sense to you and assists in plotting your story. See page 10 for more on this.
It helps me to make up a work plan with deadlines – and stick to them! Remember a children’s novel will take as long to write as a novel for adults.
When it comes to writing your characters, remember to jot down all their names, what they look like, what they are wearing and anything they are carrying with them. Put down their age and who they are related to/friends with. It will save you a lot of time in the future when you have to re-introduce an earlier character and you can’t remember what they were wearing or their names!
Likewise, for settings it’s useful for you to write up a setting study with the names, descriptions, the people who live there and anything else useful. Do this as you go along and keep separate from the main body of text.
Write up the weather – you don’t want to start the story on a nice sunny day and suddenly it’s stormy without any warning. Where did the storm suddenly come from?
Same thing goes for timelines…work out your timelines to ensure that you get the right order of events in the correct timeline. There’s nothing worse than your story happening on a Sunday, taking place over three days, but you write down it finishes on a Saturday. Readers notice badly put together timelines, so make sure you’re mindful of them as you go along, write them down, check them at the editing stage and you won’t go wrong.