Writing the Long Novel
When you’re writing a long novel, sometimes as a writer you feel that you are getting stuck in a rut, that your prose has become repetitious, so it is important to find little ways to vary your work.
Most often, writing teachers will suggest that authors write sentences or paragraphs (or even chapters) of varying lengths.
For example, Ernest Hemingway is often considered the “master of the short sentence,” but in every story that he writes, when he gets up to the place where a thematic climax comes in, he will suddenly write long sentences—as long as three or four hundred words even.
But it isn’t just sentence length that you can vary. You can look deeper than that. In Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind, the author constantly develops interesting voices for different characters, going so far as to have one character write in both the first person and the third. So your chacter’s voices can vary.
Anyone who has ever suffered through bipolar disorder knows that even a single protagonist can suffer through violent mood swings that seem to have nothing to do with what life throws at them. Thus, a character may be on top of the world one day and suicidal the next. So the emotional tone in a novel can vary widely, too.
Vary Your Characters
I’ve seen authors who struggle to put in characters who are wildly different, so that each person is highly individual, and that can be fun, since it pushes you to really delve deeply in order to create interesting characters. Thus, you can look at the works of Arthur Conan Doyle in Sherlock Holmes, and find many interesting characters with odd habits, unusual costumes, and so on.
Sometimes you can simply alter your style in small ways to good effect. In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the author will go for fifty pages of dialog where the beats—the character’s internal thoughts and the descriptions of the external settings and character actions—are all skillfully interwoven through the dialog.
you will get a lot of paragraphs similar to this:
Now we were getting somewhere. “Great,” I said. “Great. Okay, so the Dutch Tulip Man. Is he a con man? Do he and Anna’s mom get married?”
Van Houten was still staring that the ceiling beams. He took a drink. The glass was almost empty again. “Lidewij, I can’t do it. I can’t. I can’t.” He leveled his gaze to me. “Nothing happens to the Dutch Tulip Man. He isn’t a con man or not a con man; he’s God. He’s an obvious and unambiguous metaphorical representation of God, and asking what becomes of him is the intellectual equivalent of asking what becomes of the disembodied eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in
Gatsby. Do he and Anna’s mom get married? We are speaking of a novel, dear child, not some historical enterprise.”
Then he will suddenly have a brief conversation where the dialog is written simply as:
Augustus: “You probably need some rest.”
Me: “I’m okay.”
Augustus: “Okay.” (Pause.) “What are you thinking about?”
Thus, John Green will often switch-up his own narrative style, just to keep things fresh.
But you can try lots of things. For example, pay close attention to the poetry in your work. While writing a description of settings, you might want to wax lyrical in one setting, while being discordant and cacophonous in the next.
There are literally hundreds of ways that you can try to keep your writing fresh. As you study the works of other good authors, pay attention to the extremes that they go through to keep from falling into stagnation, and then adapt some of those techniques for your own use.
On Tuesday August 31st, M. Todd will be talking about “Respect, not Reverence” – How to keep hero-worship from getting in the way of continuing to grow as a writer.