Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What a Novelist Needs . . .

I've been thinking about what I want to tell my Taylor University students during our last class meeting. So if you don't mind, let me run my little speech by you . . .


At this point, if you can remember all the things your professors taught you in class, you know far more than I did when I began writing more than twenty years ago. In fact, you may know more about writing than I did even ten years ago.

But being a novelist requires far more than knowing. If you want to write books that resonate, if you aim to write books that change hearts and lives, you'll need some other qualities as well.

1. You need a generous dose of business savvy. You need to learn the ins and outs of the business and respect others working in the field. You also need to learn that ultimately, YOU are responsible for your work, not your publisher, your agent, or your readers.

2. You need wisdom. God's wisdom. Because this business is rife with intellectuals who spout the world's wisdom, and that's a far cry from Truth. Seek the wisdom that comes from above, and apply it to your life and your books.

3. You need discretion. Just because you can depict something in excruciating detail doesn't mean that you should. Think of your reader, and put him/her before your right to reveal.

4. You need smarts. Not necessarily an IQ of 150, but learn how to think, and exercise your brain regularly. Not everyone thinks deeply, but you will need to.

5. You'll need an unfettered imagination. Most people think inside the box. They follow the status quo and never even consider going beyond. Your characters, your plots, must test the boundaries of human endurance. Remember, your goal is to push your characters far beyond their comfort zones.

6. You'll need a listening ear. Develop the fine art of eavesdropping.

7. You'll need a watchful eye. Notice people, and mentally write a description of them. Notice small details in settings and places.

8. You'll need a sense of separateness. In other words, as you're going through some terrible experience--death, dishonor, grief, tragedy--some part of your brain will remain separate, cataloging your emotional reactions. Mine your own life for emotional reactions you can give your characters.

9. You'll need patience. Learning to write takes time, living takes time. And you have to live before you'll have something to write about.

10. Finally, you need heart. Novels are about emotion, about how people feel. So learn to delve under the skin, past the brain, to the emotional core of a story and a character. That's where you'll find something to write about.



Mocha with Linda said...

Those are good traits for any of us to develop, writer or not.

Well, maybe not eavesdropping! :-)

Erin Keeley Marshall said...

I graduated from Taylor years ago with an English writing major--I would have loved to sit in on your classes! I like your list of must-haves for novelists. God bless!

Anonymous said...

Pithy and thought-provoking, as usual, Angie. Thank you.
Mary Kay

Bobbe Brooks-Fischle said...

Thanks immensely for these nuggets of truth. Would love to be in-seat to hear and absorb. Safe and succesful travels!

Anonymous said...

What a great list, and the traits you've listed do seem to what my favorite writers are able to do in their books. I truly enjoy knowing the inner depths of the characters rather than just surface level. Knowing them does seem to help me know the writer, and you have a kinship with him/her. You want to keep reading everything he/she has written. :)