Day 3 of writing my novel in public
I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.
If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.
If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.
Day 3 — Mission
Over the last two days, I’ve chosen two guidebooks that will help me write the book I want to read, and identified their genres. From these I have determined the genre of the book I’m going to write — a middle grade humorous adventure fantasy.
Today I’m going to look at the main character in each of the guidebooks and their mission in the book, in order to determine the main character’s mission for the book I’m going to write. I’m coming at it from this action angle — what is it that the main character focuses on achieving — as that will determine the spine of the story. Then in the next few days, I will look at fleshing out the main character’s personality.
So the first task is to determine the main character in the two guidebooks I have chosen. In order to find the main character, I’m going to look for:
- who changes the most through the book,
- who has the biggest impact on other characters,
- who do I most identify with?
In order to not spend too much time agonising over this, I’m going to use a timer and give myself five minutes to consider. With all the decisions in writing a novel, nothing is final until I’ve finished the book, and I’m not trying to get the definitive answer here, just one that I can work with. If later it turns out that I need to change it, then that’s fine.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
There are many characters in this book that I could choose from. One thing to note is that in a children’s book, the main character is a child (or childlike, for example, an animal). The first person to enter Narnia through the wardrobe is Lucy, and so she is a possibility. As are any of the other children. But thinking through the entire story, there is one character that changes more than any other, and that is Edmund. He goes through the biggest transformation, and has the biggest impact, both negatively and positively, on the others.
There is only one child at the centre of this story, and that is Ben. He goes through the greatest change in the story in his attitude towards Granny.
For the moment I’m just going to note some key things about these main characters — age, gender and something they are passionate about.
Edmund is a 10-year-old boy who is passionate about Turkish Delight.
Ben is an 11-year-old boy who is passionate about plumbing.
All stories are about change.
In some stories, the story will change the main character. In other stories, the main character themselves might not change, but they will have some great impact on the other characters and the story world.
I’m going to explore the character arcs in the two guidebooks and to do that, I’ll use what I call the Bookends Method. This focuses on the first chapter the main character appears in and the last chapter they appear in. I’m looking at what the narrator and other characters say about the main character and what the main character does. I’m going to use the books themselves, rereading the chapters to find the information I’m looking for.
I will also note down the key events from the book that I remember. I won’t use the book here, I’ll just rely on my memory at this stage.
I’m going to set a time limit again, so that I keep focussed. This will take a little longer than the previous timed exercises. I’m going to give myself 20 minutes.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe — Edmund
Edmund in the first chapter
- stifles laughter at the Professor’s appearance
- is bad-tempered with Susan
- tells Susan she should stop trying to be mother
- calls Lucy silly
- grumbles about the rain
Edmund during the book
- makes everyone think Lucy is lying when he knows she isn’t
- succumbs to the White Witch in exchange for Turkish delight
- betrays his friends
Edmund in the last chapter
- helps defeat the White Witch by disarming her
- had become his real self again and could look you in the face
- becomes a knight
- is great in council and judgement
Gangsta Granny — Ben
Ben in the first chapter
- says his grandma is boring
- feigns interest in ballroom dancing
- dreams of becoming a plumber
- is grumpy
- resents being babied
- hates playing scrabble with his grandma
Ben during the book
- discovers his granny’s past as a jewel thief, The Black Cat
- has to compete in a ballroom dancing competition
- helps his granny break into the Tower of London
Ben in the last chapter
- wants to shout about how incredible his granny is
- wants to read the books his granny left him
- reminisces about his grandma with her cousin
- looks back fondly on playing scrabble
- remembers his granny with fondness
Determining the mission
I’m always surprised by that last exercise at just how stark the change is when you break it down like this. That information will come in useful later when I consider the key scenes in my book, but for the moment, I want to focus on the mission of the main character.
When I talk about the mission, I’m thinking about the biggest external goal. Normally, there will be one big goal that the main character is pursuing over most of the book. Once they complete it, either successfully or unsuccessfully, then you know you are nearing the end of the book. Having a clear mission gives the book a strong narrative drive.
So I’m going to give myself 5 minutes on the timer to determine the mission in my two guidebooks, and whether it is successful.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The mission is to help Aslan defeat the White Witch. It is successful.
The mission is to help granny steal the crown jewels. It is successful.
Again, there might be more than one choice and I don’t need to worry too much about getting the right mission. I can change my mind later if I need to. It’s just to give myself something to work with.
I’m going to determine the mission for my book. I’m going to just give myself 5 minutes to think through possibilities and decide on one. It doesn’t have to be complete or unique at this stage. I just need something to work with. I will also decide whether I think they will succeed. Here I go.
The mission in my book is to defeat a villain who is using smells as a weapon. I think the main character will succeed in their mission.
Where did that come from? I’m not sure exactly, from deep in my subconscious. That’s the power of only giving myself a short amount of time. The critical part of my brain doesn’t have time to come in and find objections, or worry if it is good enough.
End of Day 3 and I have spent more time focussing on my guidebooks and less on what I’m going to write, but I have done some useful analysis on the character arcs in the two guidebooks and identified the mission in each. In terms of the book I’m going to write, I have a mission for the main character to work towards.
Tomorrow I will meet my main character.
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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.