Novel Writing Recipe, Part 1

In: Current writing project, How to write

I’m working on a new book and contemplating the ingredients that might make it come together in a more fluid and natural way. I’m writing them down, for the most part, to order my thinking. For those who stumble across these posts, perhaps they will find them useful too.

Disclosure: There are wonderful books on the craft of writing that do this topic more justice than I ever could. These posts constitute dribs and drabs of observations I’m certain you can find more detail on in other places.

Ingredient 1: Visualization of Mood

I’ve read books that instruct writers to plan out the technical elements of their story such as plot, character, structure, and central conflict before they put a word on the page. It’s good advice. But I think it’s just as helpful to take the time to think about how you want your story to make a reader feel. This will help you reflect on your audience: who they are, why they are reading your book, and what will enable them to connect powerfully with your writing.

What a person feels is directly related to the mood you create in your storytelling. I often find myself attracted to books because of mood more than anything else. I see it as the texture, soul, and lingering “residual effects” of your writing. It’s definitely closely related to narrative voice—that is, the main person telling the story and the unique way they choose to frame it. That being said, I think the best writers deeply understand the difference between narrative voice and mood. They know how to use both in skillful and artful ways.

Someone once asked me, “What do you think makes a good writer?” Without thinking too much about it, I immediately answered, “Taste.” Now that I think on it some more, I realize that I understand taste as a writer’s intentional ability to establish a certain mood in their story and maintain it all the way through.

Here are some popular books I’ve read that do mood really well.

I’ve seen these books get accused of not having proper plotting. They do treat their plots differently than other books I’ve read. For example, I’m still not certain where the all-important climax was in Family Life. Still, I found all three stories highly readable, in any case. It’s their moods that kept me going, in partnership with other elements such as their incredible character development and narrative voices.

Mood can’t save a novel from its flaws. But, when done right, I think it can carry you a long way. That makes it a very powerful tool that you shouldn’t ignore right at the top of planning a writing project.  

Next post: Ingredient 2: Planning. Then changing everything.

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