By Maegan Beaumont
Your novel is a house.
Yes, I said a house—just trust me, it’ll make sense in a minute…
Writing a novel is like building a house. Your plot provides the foundation. Without a solid foundation, your house with never be structurally sound. It’s the same for your novel. Having an idea for a book and developing a plot are two different things. A plot must be able to withstand every possible "what if" scenario you can think of. You must poke at every spot, find its weaknesses and shore them up. If the hole is too big for a patch-job, then you scrap it and start over. It's a process—a long, time consuming process but it's necessary. If your foundation is cracked, your house will fall. Without a solid plot, so will your novel.
Your narrative—the story you build within the confines of your plot—provide the bones of your novel. Timber, nails, trusses—these are the materials you need to make your house a solid structure. They need to be the right lengths and sizes—cut and weighed to fit the exact dimensions laid out by your foundation, or, when finished, your house will look like you hired a troop of hyperactive toddlers to do your heavy lifting.
The same goes with your narrative. It should flow effortlessly. It should never sound forced or unnatural. When you write a paragraph or even a sentence you’re not comfortable with, you should re-read it and ask yourself, “does this sound like me?” If it doesn’t—if it’s not something you would say, or worded how you would say it, then either change it or toss it. If your narrative sounds forced, your reader will know. They won’t trust you. They’ll know that you don’t believe the words you’ve written and if you don’t believe them, neither will they. They’ll tuck a grocery receipt or parking slip between the pages of your book and set it down… and never pick it back up again. That distrustful feeling will stick with them and the next time they’re offered an opportunity to read your work, they’ll say, thanks, but I’d rather watch paint dry.
So, if your plot is the foundation and the narrative is the house that we build on said foundation… that’s it, right?
You’ve build this beautiful house that is solid and strong, but what’s the use if you don’t fill it full of people? We do that with our characters—we built this house for them to live in. Without them, what’s the use? For me, they’re the most important aspect of writing—the most important piece in building your novel. Your characters make your house a HOME.
Your characters are individuals—they have personalities unto themselves and the words you have them say portray that. Or at least they should. Your dialogue should flow as naturally from them as your narrative flows from you.
Dialogue is important.
It reveals who they are. What they think. How they feel. A single sentence can speak volumes to who they are as a person. Would you have your protagonist’s nine-year-old daughter spout lines that sound like they belong to a stuffy old butler from some BBC drama? Would you have your hard-boiled detective whine like a sorority girl who just chipped a nail? If the answer is yes, you need to re-evaluate who your characters really are... and possibly seek professional help.