Fundamentals of creative writing: the novel

Fundamentals of creative writing: the novel. Part of free crash course from Ruth Wade.

Don’t be fooled by the enormous volume of novels out there: writing one is a huge undertaking.

A novelist is forever chasing the impossibility of perfection; wanting to recapture the fleeting vision of something perfectly-realised in their imagination. Accept, right here and now, it is never going to happen. But in the process of the pursuit, you may draft something better – it will certainly be richer.

Writing novels requires stamina. And a stubborn determination. A sense of self-deprecating humour also helps.

However hard the going, maintain perspective. A finished novel can be a work of art, an amusing diversion, an engrossing entertainment, a daring provocation. Writing one is never a matter of life and death.

Novels require planning. Before, during, after the first draft, or all of those. It doesn’t matter when you prepare and fine-tune the blueprint, just that you do.

Be prepared for the novel to get unwieldy and messy; it’s a necessary stage you have to work through to arrive at the simplicity of a story well told.

You can find more on the skills & craft of writing 

narrative & voice
revision & rewriting
short stories

What some other writers have to say about novels and novelists:

A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.
Susan Sontag

I have the gift of occasionally being able to put myself back in the past and see what’s happening. That’s how historical novels should be written.
Robert Graves

A novelist is a person who lives in other people’s lives.
E. L. Doctorow

Novels with a large canvas sometimes fail to provide an intense emotional experience; novels with a narrow focus can seem claustrophobic.
Jane Smiley

I am strongly of the opinion that the novelist’s job is to be entertaining, not in a trivial or shallow way, but in such a way that his readers will want to finish his book, and perhaps think about it.
Robertson Davies 

The business of the novel is to create life.
Dawn Powell

Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E. L. Doctorow

The writer needs to construct imaginary worlds – huge thoughts made up of creative details – so rich and complex, and so awesomely simple, that we are astounded.
John Gardner

I don’t think it’s a novelist’s job to give answers. He’s only concerned with exposing the human situation.
Angus Wilson 

It is said that the tolling of a perfectly made bell creates a corresponding vibration inside the chest of each listener. It is this resonance, finally, that separates the successful novel from the others. Through it all there is a sense that what we’re seeing is not all that this is about.
Chitra Divakaruni

See also quotes on writing craft, general writing quotes, and tough love words of wisdom. In addition, you might find inspiration amongst the thoughts on creativity.