Welcome to week 3 of Anthony Ehlers's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post
- Decide on genre
- Rewrite your working synopsis
- Exploring the mood of your novel
Through the lens of genre
You may have wondered when I was going
to bring up the topic of genre. I deliberately left it until now, because I
think if you focus too much on genre right at the beginning of the novel
writing process, it can stifle the natural flow of your story.
Yes, it’s great to have an idea of what
type of story you’re telling from the start — but by working on your synopsis
and character thumbnails, you’ll probably come up with some great unfettered
ideas. Some may even suggest a different genre
to what you had in mind.
At the start of my story, I knew I was
going to write a suspense novel but I need to sharpen my focus on genre. For
me, the psychological element of a suspense is always more exciting that the
physical element of it. I love Eyes Wide Shut, the movie based on the
story ‘Traumnovelle’, which explores sexual jealousy and fantasies. So I knew I
wanted my story to have an erotic edge. However, I wanted it to play out like a
thriller — with an element of pursuit.
What genre most suits your story? How can you align your plot more closely to that
genre? My story, at the end of the day, is an erotic thriller — so I felt it
was lacking in menace. It needed more tension and suspense. That was something
I needed to focus on. This meant I had
to relook at both the storyline and the characters, especially the antagonist.
Bringing the antagonist
from the edge … closer to your main character
With this is mind, this week the task is
to have another look at your working synopsis. Is there enough in it to satisfy
the requirements of your genre?
At this point, try to find three or four
key scenes that if someone read just
these scenes, they would immediately guess the genre. In the film Fatal Attraction, for example, Alex, the
stalker, escalates her obsessive pursuit of a married man after he tries to
rebuff her following their one-night stand. She fakes a pregnancy to get his
attention, shows up under the guise as a potential buyer of his apartment to
meet his wife, and even ‘kidnaps’ his daughter. (Oh, let’s not forget the bunny
These three scenes, on their own, show
how she’s encroached on his life and is posing a threat to his wife and child —
the two people he doesn’t want to lose. There’s a lot at stake for this main
Of course, if we use this movie as an
example, Alex as an antagonist is superb. Her successful career and casual
attitude to sex hide her obsessive and unbalanced nature. She is not a
stereotypical ‘vamp’: at times, we even feel empathy for her.
This week look at your antagonist and
try to flesh out elements of this character so that they will function better
in your chosen genre. Then look at the characters around them — your lead, your
love interest, and so forth — and see how you could make them more vulnerable
to the antics of the antagonist, and also what strengths (hidden or otherwise)
you could give them to stand up to the antagonist.
The ‘feel’ of your story
Every story has its own mood. How an
author creates a scene, builds a character, the pace he or she uses to create
tension or relief in the reader, their descriptions of setting — all these
influence the tone of a novel.
I’ll give you an example from the film
world. The film Basic Instinct, a
thriller, has a cool Hitchcockian style, with an icy soundtrack and a detached
voyeuristic feel. However, if you read Joe Eszterhaz’s original script, he
intended it to have a much rougher touch — with a Rolling Stones rock ’n’ roll
edge. Not a single word of the dialogue or the plot changed from script to
screen, but the director gave the film his own unique treatment.
While plot is about story, genre is more
about tone, I believe. This week you
may want to write out a ‘treatment’ of your novel, much the way filmmakers do
with a movie. What kind of tone do you want to create? What’s the mood or
feeling you want to stir in the reader?
Stephenie Meyer, I recall, used to
create playlists of music while writing her Twilight
series (I think Muse featured heavily). A good idea is to think of what
invisible soundtrack you want the reader to ‘hear’ while reading the book —
this will influence the tone of your novel.
— 2-3 hours
1 hour to rewrite your synopsis
1 hour to rewrite your character thumbnails
1 hour to write out the treatment
Read a novel or two and try to isolate
the three plot points, or three scenes, that are key to its genre.
Make a list of your favourite baddies or
antagonists — next to each name write down one or two characters traits that
you remember about them.
Imagine your main character and antagonist
in two different locations at exactly the same time — describe how your
antagonist would travel to get to your main character and why.
Watch one of your favourite movies — pay
attention to the mood or tone of the story. How was this achieved?
Create a playlist of music that you
think would suit your story. Listen to it while you write.
it, quote it, believe it:
‘Genre is a powerful but dangerous lens.
It both clarifies and limits. The writer must be careful not to see life in the
stereotyped form — but to look at life with all the possibilities of genre in
mind.’ — Donald Murray