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The Right Decisions to Write


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Fiction-Therapy-WU-header.jpg?resize=525I wasn’t able to submit my regular monthly article in June. And I felt so bad about it because I only gave the Writer Unboxed team a couple of days notice that I wouldn’t fulfill my commitment. Of course, everyone at WU is extremely supportive, and I even gained some sympathy when I gave the reason why: I had just moved house.

I had totally underestimated what this would involve, despite having moved house many times in my life. Moving to a new house is regularly in the top five most stressful life events – often placed higher than a major illness and losing your job.

There’s a lot involved in moving house. There’s all the packing, and we shouldn’t forget the emotional aspect to that, of finding something tucked away in a drawer that reminds you of an earlier time or a loved one. You might be moving farther from your friends and have to go through the whole process of meeting new people. Maybe the children have to start a new school, and they probably won’t want to, so you have all the stress of upset kids. Then there are the practical things like changing address at so many different agencies, companies and organizations. Plus the physical labor involved in lugging boxes around and shifting furniture.

And that’s just a few of the things you have to deal with. I’ve just gone through the process and already I find it difficult to list everything involved. That’s what makes it so easy to underestimate – there’s just so much involved.

As our wonderful and understanding WU editor, Therese, told me, “Moving is such a huge undertaking, and it’s the ‘gift’ that keeps on taking time, energy and usually $$.”

Thankfully, writing is much easier. As Hemingway said, “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Yep, not easy either.

To procrastinate or not

Novels usually start with an idea, and that’s often the easiest part of the process. Inspiration can come in a flash. Or you get that spark which smolders for a while until you get the burning need get the whole story down on the page.

That’s where the procrastination starts.

Do you just start up your computer and get tapping away with your standard word processing program or do you go for a more specialized software, like Scrivener? There’s no right or wrong answer to that, more a personal preference. The main thing is to get writing. And that’s not just about procrastination, there are some serious decision to be taken then.

One of the most important choices an author has to make is: who is going to narrate the story. Will you give readers an omniscient god-like point of view, looking down on your characters as if from above, seeing them all move around and interact. This is great for sprawling epics or stories with many characters because it gives readers an overview of the drama and it’s easier to switch from one character to another. Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is an example of this. The disadvantage is that an omniscient perspective can feel distant, detached from the characters.

To get nearer to your protagonist, you might want to chose a close third-person perspective. In this case readers get the direct thoughts and feelings of the character. The disadvantage here is that it’s difficult to switch between characters, especially within a scene because that can confuse readers, make it difficult for them to know who they should sympathize with. This shifting between characters is called head-hopping as it disorientates readers and so should be avoided. The third-person close point of view should then only follow one character, at least within a scene.

You have the same issues with a first-person perspective where the author stays with the same character throughout, giving readers that person’s direct point of view with their thoughts and feelings. In this case though, readers can’t be sure of everything this character tells us. We’re getting a subjective rather than objective point of view and this character could be misinterpreting the events they experience. But many authors can turn that into an advantage, as is the case with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Now or then

Another crucial decision is whether to tell the story in past or present tense. Most novels are told in past tense, relating events after they’ve happened. Present tense gives more immediacy, which can be good for thrillers as it puts readers right at the heart of the action, experiencing the events at the same time as the characters, but it’s then difficult to switch between timelines and relate past events and it can also feel contrived –readers can wonder how this character can narrate all this while also experiencing it.

The author also has to decide what they want to say. What’s the point of this story? What would you like readers to take away after they’ve read your book? This can come before you even have the idea for your story. You might have a point you want to get across and decide that a story is the best way to deliver it. But often writers develop the premise as they go, but it’s important to have one because a premise gives your story a direction, it helps to give focus, to give your story a purpose.

Even after your story is written and you’ve made all the decision about which way your character will go when confronted by all the dilemmas they face throughout the story and you’ve typed those magical words THE END, the decisions don’t stop. You’ll need to decide on an editor (and you really should have an editor). And you’ll need to decide whether you want to self-publish or find an agent and publisher for your book. Then you need to think about promotion and marketing and a whole list of other stuff.

Writing then is, in many ways, just like moving house. It is, as our Therese might say: “the ‘gift’ that keeps on taking time, energy and $$.”

What are the most difficult decisions for you when writing? What other decisions do you feel are important when writing a novel?

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About Jim Dempsey

Jim Dempsey (he/him) is a book editor who specializes in detailed analysis and editing of novel manuscripts through his company, Novel Gazing. He has worked as an editor for more than 20 years. He has a master’s degree in creative writing and is a professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and is a trustee of the Arkbound Foundation. Jim is fascinated by the similarities between fiction and psychotherapy, since both investigate the human condition, the things that make us uniquely human. He explores this at The Fiction Therapist website. If you have a specific concern with your novel, send an email to jim [at] thefictiontherapist.com, or visit the website to ask for a free sample edit. You can follow Jim on Instagram @the_fiction_therapist.

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