poetry and prose about place

writing a novel – getting started

with 6 comments


So the poet has decided to write a novel…


Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer (not a very successful writer)

Plot: unknown


Before beginning my novel, one of the steps I have taken is to read several books on how to write a novel.  This is not because I believe a novel can be written if you just follow some rules.  I do want to think about how the novel is constructed and to hear what successful novelists say about their craft.

I have been reading various perspectives on writing the novel and I will talk here about three of these:

1. Stephen King, On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft  (Scribner, 2000).

Though I don’t usually seek after the horror genre in books, Stephen King has my admiration for his ability to take you ‘deep into story’.  I can’t think of another passage as well done as his description of the running topiary figures in The Shining (Doubleday, 1977), or his chilling account of a father trying to save his son from running into the road in Pet Sematary (Doubleday, 1983).  His book On Writing is, itself, highly readable, and contains excellent advice for a writer.  I’ll try to pay attention to his cautions about adverbs (she said resolutely) and about using the passive voice (the parishioners abandoned the church, not the church was abandoned by the parishioners).  He also says I have to ‘stand in the corner’ if I use the phrase ‘at this point in time’.


2. Phyllis Whitney, ‘Guide To Fiction Writing’ (The Writer, Inc. Publishers, Boston, 1982).

Phyllis Whitney’s Thunder Heights (Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1960) was among the first adult mystery novels I ever read and in my early twenties, I devoured her books.  I read her every chance I got, often while everyone thought I was studying.  The interesting thing about her Guide to Fiction Writing is how different writing is today.  The Guide suggests extensive planning of the novel, working out outline, plot, and characters in labelled sections of a binder.  I had to do this for my first book, since it nearly drove me wild trying to remember when such-and-such occurred and whether my character was wearing a pony-tail or not in the chapter before.   However, at this point in time [get in the corner, Jane], everything can now be put in a single computer file!  And blessings on Word and the ‘Find’ search feature.  The advice I have taken from Phyllis Whitney? –  do a detailed word sketch about each of your characters.  I have done this with my present cast of characters and I believe knowing how the characters will behave in various circumstances helps the story write itself.


3. John Braine, ‘Writing a Novel’ (McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1974).

Although I have yet to read a novel by John Braine, I love his no-nonsense approach to giving advice.  He says not to write a novel if you are ‘married or permanently entangled’, and suggests a first novel ‘shouldn’t be written much before the age of thirty’.   Also, he absolutely advises against making the main character a writer.  Bad luck for me, I have decided my main character will be a writer, although not a particularly successful writer.  Braine does have advice I plan to take.  In particular, he presents the following sentence: ‘he got up, went downstairs, and hailed a taxi’ … he says, ‘test every sentence against it; if any has that same flat, dead quality, rewrite or cut it.’


a born writer – a young girl, writing about her experience at the Falls, on any surface she could find – I snapped this photo at Athabasca Falls in Alberta in 2003

And so I am writing my novel with the best advice…  and now you know my main character is a writer… but what else will I have her be?


Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 21, 2012 at 7:23 am

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I don’t think you have to worry about “the blog making the book sound better than it actually turns out to be.”



    November 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    • Thanks Rosie. That’s kind of you to say. Today was not so productive… I wrote 130 words. My aim is for 2000 per day, but some days…. Jane


      jane tims

      November 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm

  2. Great info Jane. I like this new line of creativity with your blog. With all the research you are doing on writing your novel perhaps you could keep this up as a teaching tool.



    November 21, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    • Hi. Glad you like it. It will be a challenge to talk about my novel in the blog, yet not give too much away. I think I will focus on process. My only worry is the blog will make the book sound better than it actually turns out to be!!!! jane


      jane tims

      November 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

  3. Can’t wait to find out!


    Jane Fritz

    November 21, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I'd love to hear what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: