Learning to Write a Novel, Part 2

By March, I plan to have an 80,000 word draft of my novel completed. I am currently 30,000 words in, but the more I write, the more I become aware of my weaknesses as an author. I do not know what I am capable of, but one thing I do know, I will not let myself remain where I am. Therefore, I have created this study plan from suggested exercises in Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long.

First, I will read six literary novels:

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
The Other by David Gutterson
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia

And one more, any suggestions?

As I read, I will do what Priscilla Long calls “lexicon practice.” That is, I will collect my favorite words in a notebook: words I don’t know the meaning of, words that spark a list, such as coniferous trees of the northwest, words that flow unbidden into one another. Additionally, I will write out sentences and paragraphs that move me, that demonstrate the kind of writing to which I aspire.

After I have read the books, I will study their structure by marking each scene with an index card on which I will note important details such as viewpoint character, chronology, setting, etc. After studying the cards, I will separate them into structural units. Some of these books will no doubt follow a straight forward, three act structure. Others will jump through time and space. In either case, I will note the patterns and connections and turning points.

Long and Bell promise that these exercises will take any writer to the next level. Anyone care to join me? Why not let NaNoWriMo go this year and send yourself back to school instead.

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