By Leonard Bishop
(Ed. This was part of a series Mr. Bishop wrote in 1985, “…for people who are interested in writing a novel but who have felt too inadequate to begin.” The advice rings true today! His other pieces in this series are: Writing a Novel? Let’s Pretend, Dramatize Life, Get Emotional)
This last installment on writing your “youth/Odyssey” novel will be without frills or chit-chat. I do not have much space left. Let’s get to the plot-line. A plot-line is the razzle-dazzle and suspense of the story. Here are some exaggerated examples to use as a guide.
If you are writing a First-Person novel (telling the story of what happened from a personal viewpoint) an excellent structure can be found in the old-time silent movie serials. Pearl White, a two-gun heroine of the West, is chased by dastardly bank robbers. Furiously, she rides her horse to a cliff’s edge, and plunges over. The camera shows her tumbling down to the rocky canyon below. The scene ends.
Next week’s installment (the next chapter) opens with Pearl hurtling down. But, she catches onto a branch jutting from the cliff-side, and is saved. She climbs up and gets away. The series continues into another adventure.
If you have a dual plot-line, conducted through a Third-Person (using the viewpoints of several people) bring in the silent film serial of the Lone Ranger. He and Pearl are lovers but events are always interrupting their affair; separating them. Alternate between what happens to Pearl and the Lone Ranger. If you want a triple plot-line, turn Tonto into a villain. Go from one plot-line to another plot-line in any sequence that is interesting and suspenseful.
A Plot-Line is merely a series of scenes (events) which are connected through the lives of the characters. Each scene should be a complete unit that pushes the plot further, and deepens the characters. Scenes should have a conclusion, but not a final ending. Open-ended scenes will allow your entry into other scenes. Events should be happening all the time.
There are only two other writing techniques– Foreshadowing and Linkage–that you need as basics for writing your “Youth/Odyssey” novel.
Foreshadowing is like a barely audible whisper concealed in the scene, telling the reader about another scene that will appear later on. When Red Riding Hood’s mother warns her about the Wolf, and the girl answers, “I’ll be careful. The Wolf won’t catch me, ” you are telling the reader that later on, the Wolf will probably find her.
Linkage is a device used for connecting the several characters through the several plot-lines. When Red Riding Hood is warned of the Wolf, you can now shift to a scene of what the Wolf is thinking and doing. When the Wolf determines that Red Riding Hood is going to her grandmother’s, you can shift to a scene about what the grandmother is thinking and doing. You have linked their lives and plot-lines through a common interest.
Restrain yourself from politicizing, sermonizing, or philosophizing. It has all been said before. Your philosophy will be revealed by what happens to your characters. The character of your characters and how they relate to each other will be your sermon. How your characters deal with society, and what society does to them, expresses your political views.
Don’t dwaddle or meander when you begin your novel. Put your major character (yourself) and other characters into critical situations that force them to take action, Immediately. Don’t landscape the countryside, describe the city, document the historical background. You can do that after something happens to your people. Plunge right into the novel.
Avoid lengthy dialogues where people stand about telling each other what they already know. (Example: “Well, Martin, now that we’ve been married 18 years, and have three children, two girls and a boy, and you’re an engineer earning $22,965 a year, and we still have $46,407 left on our mortgage, how do you feel about our president’s economic policies?”) Let your characters say what they must say, and get on with the action.
Use sex scenes only when they contribute to the plot and change relationships. Do not be excessively graphic about describing anatomical endowments and where the odd-shaped parts fit. Control your exuberance for portraying erotic spectaculars and fleshly panoramas. Readers want emotional revelations when characters couple–not fornicative instruction.
Growing up in a small Kansas community, and remaining there, is not a deterrent for writing a novel. Writers are people who have perceptions and insights into “the human experience”-wherever they live. A writer travels without leaving home. Living in Kansas does not retard you mind or paralyze your sensitivities. Only evaluating your life as banal and undramatic can gradually render you into a lethargic slug.
Writing a novel about yourself is not a total answer for overcoming boredom, television, the idle-worship of sports, and other anesthetizing activities used for avoiding reality. But it is a positive, bold move into the discovery of yourself. Find out who you are. You might be hiding from someone you can love. You might find others worth loving. And remember, the Great American Novel is still waiting to be written-again.
I have offered up only the beginnings of what should be known about writing a novel. You will learn the rest through your writing. Begin today, and in one year, I will expect letters from people, telling me I am inept, superficial, and dumb–and then instructing me on how to write a novel. Good. I would appreciate that instruction. I am old, but not that old. Ha.
©2014 The Estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published December 1, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)