In the Beginning Was An Idea

Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2x-0

Image Credit: https://www.edx.org/course/how-write-novel-writing-draft-ubcx-cw1-2x-0

So you want to write a novel. Awesome. I’m writing a novel, too. Novels are hard to write in college; being in college tends to get in the way. But if you’re determined to finish your masterpiece, this is a general guide to help you along.

So you have a starting point for your novel, whether it’s a character you wish was real, or a conflict you want to explore on paper, or even just a fun bit of dialogue that’s stuck in your head. Excellent. Your novel will grow and sprawl from that seedling idea into a minimum 50,000 word work (about 175 pages, according to the official definition of a novel by the people at National Novel Writing Month).

Well. Wait. Maybe not 50,000 words. That’s an entire year’s worth of papers. That’s two senior theses. The question I’m asking is, are you sure your idea isn’t better off in a short story?

The difference between a short story and a novel isn’t in word count. A novel isn’t just a super-long short story, nor is it just a series of short stories with connected beginnings and endings. There’s an entire shift in mood and mindset. Short story conflicts are immediate; they’re not necessarily enormous, life-altering moments. They close and resolve their themes within a momentary peek into a character’s life. Novel conflicts are built up. There is just enough necessary room for a long exposition and rising action to create central conflict that logically arises from the characters you’ve established. Novel conflicts send ripples through almost all the aspects of a character’s life. Every line leads logically from not just previous lines, but previous chapters, and each line draws comparison between the individual character and our general expectations of average people. You can’t define a person in the moment of a short story. You can define a person in the chronicle of a novel.

Maybe your idea is large enough to sustain a novel. It could be political, or romantic, or fantastic. But in case you’re having trouble fleshing out your idea, it might help to think of your skeleton novel in terms of its larger themes (yes, I am suggesting that you close-read your own novel before you’ve written it). From there, you can imagine specific scenes or monologues that will further shape your novel. A theme is not a moral. You don’t have to have a moral. You do need to have a purpose.

A note about style: It’s your novel. Write it however you want. Read. Read a lot, and steal any stylistic devices you like.

Sidebar: For example, the seedling to my novel actually started as a short story; in short, it was about a woman who falls in love during World War II and the bittersweet knowledge that when the war ends, her relationship must end. It was a single (somewhat substantial but still rather isolated) period of her life. Now that I’m fleshing it out, I want to raise it from a static personal investment to something broader: a young person’s confrontation with life’s disappointment and mortality on the largest human scale, and, politically, whether her love for her country is worth her own selfish emotions.

By Robin Yang


Robin Yang was one of the Campus Clipper’s publishing interns, who wrote an e-book on how to write a novel. If you like Robin’s writing, follow our blog for more chapters from this e-book. We have the most talented interns ever and we’re so proud of them! For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services.  

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