May 14, 2008

Writing a novel...

How is a novel born? What makes one decide to write such a lengthy composition? Why do writers write a work of fiction?

A colleague and friend of mine has recently written a novel, and I had the privilege of being the first one to read the final draft. That is when a barrage of questions started flooding my mind; questions that I had always carried within but never articulated thus far. Not being able to contain myself I asked my friend turned novelist some rather pointed questions about her new vocation. Her witty and wholesome answers but only whetted my curiosity about novel writers. Why do they write?

Does a writer start off knowing she is going to write a 500 page novel or does the novel simply grow out of what started as a short story? Do the pages of a novel grow to a plan or are they at the mercy of a character that breaks loose and takes the story hostage?

After pondering over these questions for the longest time and finding no palpable answers I turned to the big-wigs of Literature to see what they had to say about novelists and the writing of a novel... I'm not so sure that helped!

Toni Morrison put it this way: “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Saul Bellow feels
" A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and the multitude of false ones"

Faulkner says
"every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries the short story...failing that...takes up novel writing."

Camus defines the novel
"a philosophy put into images."

Chesterton says a "a good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."

Hemingway believes a novel "should create living people; people not characters."

Henry James says "The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life."


EXSENO said...

I have to agree with you, I really don't think any of them clarified the 'why' question.
But they did have some very interesting comments to make. I must say my favorite comment was by far the one by 'Chesterton', so very true.
A good novel is only as good as it's author.

Eshuneutics said...

Faulkner's comment it interesting. It comes across as cynicism, but putting that aside, yes: poetry is often the first-stop for a writer because it is autobiographical. The move to novel writing seems to come when the desire to write about self turns into the dramatic, putting that self amongst imaginary selves. Eventually, the dramatic selves replace the author until there is a novel with an element of biography. Probably, the novel begins when their are issues to think through. This, then, raises a large question? Why do authors write novels that have nothing to say and have little personal relevance to the author--as is true with so much popular fiction?
That seems to me to be such a waste of effort. There's also a feeling, sadly, that everyone should write a novel these days: it's what a person should do...for fame...for posterity...I wish they wouldn't! Then bookshops might have shelve space once again for poetry!

EYE said...

I think it just happens and before you know it you are stuck in a labyrinth of stories and images that you got to put in words

Id it is said...

"the desire to write about self turns into the dramatic, putting that self amongst imaginary selves. Eventually, the dramatic selves replace the author" - Eshu, you are so right on this one being the ultimate test! I recently tried it in one of my poems titled "Puppy Love"; what a challenge that was!

...shelf space is definitely at a premium these days yet it's so hard to find a book you WANT to read, and even harder finding one that you actually are glad you picked up after you finish reading it! I had to say this even at the risk of sounding pompous and negative, hehe

Id it is said...

that a good point you make there 'stories and images that you got to put in words" However, the words you choose to sound out those stories and images have to have a quality, a distinct lure that'll make the reading worthwhile or else it ends up as eshu says so aptly in his previous comment "wasting shelf space". What is crucial and thus worrisome is that each individual apparently has a story to tell!

White Rose said...

I haven't written a novel, but I have found that a single sentence will pop into my head and I can create a short story from that single sentence.

Or it could be an image that pops into my head.

I can see where a novel can take years to complete. Little pieces of it written over time.

bereweber said...

hi there id
this is not a comment about writing a novel but about one of the best written novels in English that i have read lately... The Line of Beauty

i am not sure why, perhaps because your last quote is by mister Henry James, and his one of the authors mentioned a lot in this book, so somehow felt compelled to tell you about this book above... the author is Allan Hollinghurst and even if the theme wasn't the one of my choice or related to anything in my life (the 80's in London during Tatcher government, and dealing with gay affairs...) still the book is one of the best novels i have come across in a while...

still, i have no idea how and why a writer feels compelled to write a novel or a poem for that matter, as one cannot find reasons why a painter paints, or an engineer builds a bridge... or why we write blogs in that case... communication and art so intrinsic to human behavior that seems paradoxical to be able to explain it while being human yourself, huh?

but anyhow, it is thrilling that you read your friend's novel for the 1st time, what an honor! and i hope he is able to transmit what he wanted to the rest of us through his book!

have a lovely weekend!

human being said...

interesting and thoughtprovoking...
loved the quotes,too...
each highlighted a truth...