How to write a novel

I am planning to write a book. Well let me inform you guys that before I have attempted to run away from home, make a movie, take a bike ride crossing 5 states, write my own operating system, start 10s of open source projects and so on. It is should not be very difficult for you guys to judge the fate of these endeavors. It should not surprise anyone if my plan of writing a book meets with same fate.

However let me also tell you that in my attempt to run away from home I learned the difficulties of living alone, in my attempt to have a long ride I at least roamed on the lonely roads of Maharashtra , My master’s thesis is actually about writing/extending a special purpose  (something that is used in nuclear power-plants) operating system and some of my open source projects are actually used by handful people and I have made more money than a regular software developer out there. So when I actually attempt writing a book I am sure something good will come out of it.

The reason why I thought of writing a book is for last one month I have this strong inspiration to write down the story which was vaguely in my mind for years. I always thought writing a book is all about sitting down and writing pages after pages. Unfortunately that is not the case. I wanted to write a thriller. I had some rough sketch of characters and some vague storyline. But when I started writing down I realized how difficult task it is. I realized that there are probably many ways to write a book.

One way is you start writing preface and go on writing till you finish the book. It is almost same like reading a book. You yourself are not sure of what happens next. You just imagine it as and when you reach there.

The other approach which I thought I will take is

1. List all important characters.

2. Write one paragraph summary of your story. It should contain the whole crux of your story. As an exercise I wrote story of harry potter.

Young Harry studies in a school of wizardry unknown rest to humanity. Harry has lost his parents at such a young age and he is a different kid. As he grows up every year in school offers a new challenge to him. Each of these challenges lead on villain everyone fears but no one seems to know a lot about him. Eventually Harry learns that it is his destiny to face Lord Voldemort. With the help of his two friends and teachers Harry manage to uncover the secret of Voldemort’s life and destroys all 7 items that contain pieces of Voldemort’s soul.

[I know it is ridiculous to see Harry Potter in one paragraph. The fact is I haven’t read Harry Potter in the first place this is all I understood from the movies. For that matter I always found HP to be without depth.]

Besides that one paragraph you should also write the key ‘things’ that drive the characters. In case of harry potter it is destiny. I did the same exercise for my ever inspiring Star Wars series and for Luke the keyword is “redemption of his father”.

3. Extend one paragraph to one page. Where all main characters must be mentioned with they key role they play. I did this for Star Wars and it is too lengthy to be put here.

4. Then start with your chapter 1.

But then I realized I am less than immature in this are and hence it will be better if I ask some people who have already written some books. So I put up a question on Quora. Out of many answers I received I reproduce this paragraph here which was very interesting.

How to Write A Damn Good Thriller, Frey 2010, lists seven pillars: high stakes, unity of opposites, impossible odds, moral struggle, ticking clock, menace and extreme characters. [source]

One lady also helped by telling me how J.K Rowling wrote Harry potter

I once taught a unit to primary aged children on JK Rowling’s writing. She planned really extensively before even writing the first chapter of the first Harry Potter novel. She even drew pictures of each character, and planned their entire back stories. Rowling knew every single plot twist and detail before starting to write. She even knew what happened to the characters way beyond the end of the last novel. For example; that Hermione brought her parents home and restored their memories. That was never in the books, but was part of the immensely detailed planning that supported Rowling’s creation of a highly consistent, believable alternate reality.

That is purely fascinating. I know for those who write books for living it may not come as surprise or the surprise will be something like what I do when I see some awesome code. But for someone who is not familiar with the art at all these key points gave a lot of insights. There is another thing about thrillers as one person mentions.

The thriller often introduces the antagonist early so that the reader does not have to wait like in the mystery. It is also fast-paced compared to suspense. These can still be mixed if there are surprises later on.

When I was kid I remember reading about the difference between Thriller and Mystery. Thriller is the one where main crime and villain is known before hand we take pleasure in how he meets his fate. So the details are key. In case of mystery we may know what the crime is but we dont know what causes it the plot reveals it in the end. (I learned this during my attempt to make a movie).

An irrelevant rant

It is so silly that in schools we are taught poetry and prose but without any knowledge of how it is created. Why cant a school textbook have a murder mystery or a thriller story ? Why cant the difference between the both be taught to the kids in school itself ? We read Premchand’s tragedies without ever paying any attention to the social content on which it is based. We had many English Poems in our textbook including those of wordsworth but I dont remember even the title. I think that is a great indictment of our education and not of wordworth or myself. The questions that are asked at the end of the chapter betray common sense.

For example I remember a chapter in our Marathi textbook. I think it was written by Shanta Shelke (I hope my memory serves me right here). She happened to know an old lady who had lost her young children and husband in an accident. She was sad and she tried to get some peace by reading religious books but nothing soothed her. Shanta Shelke handed her Arabian Nights. Not only the lady loved it but her old age presented her a great advantage. She had bad memory so each story was fresh for her no matter how many times she read it. It was an amazing chapter and few days back when I was home I told my parents the same story when they started complaining that their short term memory is not as good as it was when they were young. Now the nincompoops who write textbooks add questions at the end of the form “Which book did Shanta Shelke gave to the old lady?” or “Why was the old lady upset with life?”.  My simple answer to these question is “who gives a fuck?”. Why cant they give questions like “what is interesting about this story?” I know these question have no right/wrong answer but it provokes students to think. My little experience with young minds is that when you provoke them to think you get big surprises.

Continuing with my thriller novel topic..

Clearly the real thing about thriller novel is in it’s details. Not all of us are meant to be story tellers. Also, only giants get to sit on the shoulders of the giants but little dwarfs like me can definitely give it a shot.

Eventually life is not about taking what is given to you, it is about imagining an alternate universe, an alternative reality and living in it and sometimes trying to make it real. People who make lemonade out of the lemon life has thrown at them only drink the lemonade and go nowhere in life. People who throw back that lemon and ask life to fuck off eventually for the life to change.

Consider Star Wars. An epic in itself. Almost every kid in America has played with light sabers as a kid imagining themselves as Jedi. Darth Vader perhaps is the most loved villain of all time, in fact it is hard to call him a villain.

I think how to write must be made compulsory in our education curriculum. The world has changed so much but our kids are still writing “Ped ki Atmakathaa”.

Let us see how far my book goes. I am already done with the characters and a one paragraph plot. In fact I refined it multiple times.

4 thoughts on “How to write a novel

  1. At this point of time I can only wish you good luck. But do send me invitation when you launching it. Want to be in first 20 to own a copy of it.
    As siddhesh said, would also like to proof read it.

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