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The self-writing novel

At the beginning of the novel, when you are staring at the blank white pages in front of you, you need to trawl your imagination as you are building everything from scratch.

As you progress through various drafts of your novel, it will start to make natural links you hadn't even spotted. Don't try and make it too complex to begin with, but build it up in layers.

As you go through, you will find a lot of happy accidents occur where things seem to tie up really nicely and link together in ways you never planned for. Is it a coincidence or was your brain working on some subconscious level, whatever way doesn't matter... they work amazingly well so look out for these accidental tie-ups.

As you build up the characters, they will take onboard various bits of baggage. This can be useful in helping to write the novel as the characters gain extra material for you to draw upon at any point, but if you decide that you suddenly want to take that character off in a different direction then you need to take the time to unload the baggage first and deal with it.

An obvious example:

  • In chapter one we meet John.
  • In chapter two John meets Jane.
  • In chapter three they marry.
  • In chapter four a horse falls off a ladder and squishes Jane (a common household accident).
  • In chapter five John is excited as the new 'Teletubbies' mobile phone cover he ordered has just arrived in the post...

Whoa! Hang on there. John's beloved has just been crushed to a pulp. We're going to need several chapters to deal with the grief process before John can get excited over the Teletubbies phone cover. This was obviously an exaggerated example, but it is easy to ignore the more subtle baggage.

It might even be worth making a chapter by chapter baggage list. Mark out all your chapters in a new document (use your novel timeline as the template) and then list all your characters under each chapter. Now, taking into account their overall aims in the long term, write a few words for each character in each chapter about what they were doing in the last chapter, what they are trying to achieve in this chapter and what they are intending to work towards and so will be thinking about in the following chapters.

Any plot baggage not dealt with in a chapter must be passed on to the next chapter. Obviously some baggage will fade and diminish in importance with time, but this is not a good way to deal with these issues.

By the time you hit the third section of your novel, it's downhill sailing. It's writing itself. Not only do we have our character document and character psychoses to draw on, but we have the baggage we have built up and also small little quirks that you never intended but have evolved with each character as you have written about them. The plot of the novel itself is demanding that certain events happen and there will numerous subplots that need tying up satisfactorily. The scenes we place the characters and events into have their own histories and metaphorical themes that will shape how things happen within them. On top of this, the running themes we have noticed and engineered will add their own flavour to the text.

Let's look at the scene where Tarko, Lemon and Doghouse have escaped Yakov and are planning how to get away from here on. We know that Tarko cares deeply for the other two, we know he feels guilty about dragging them into danger and we know that he is Yakov's main target.

Whatever else we as the author want to do at this point in the novel, Tarko is demanding the opportunity to tell Lemon and Doghouse to go off separately without him to save themselves. Even if we didn't plan this scene, the events and the character are demanding to do this.

Doghouse wants to stick with Tarko, we know this as he has done this consistently throughout the whole book. No matter what the danger, Doghouse has stuck with Tarko, so we cannot write anything else unless we go to great lengths to explain ourselves.

Lemon also demands to stay with Tarko. Yes, she is weak from her ordeal at Allington Point but we know she has very high principles that she will stick to her even when she no longer has the strength to realistically do it.

Lemon introduces a problem for Doghouse. As much as he cares for Tarko, they are both very protective of Lemon and they know she is weak and vulnerable at this point in the plot. Doghouse wants to stick with Tarko but he wants to get Lemon to safety first.

Tarko sees this as a great opportunity to save them both. He tells Doghouse to take Lemon to safety and then they will meet up later. Doghouse knows what Tarko is up to and that he has no intention of meeting up with Doghouse again. But what can Doghouse do? He has to agree to it because he has to get Lemon to safety.

Lemon is arguing with them both as they are both agreeing she has to go to a safe house.

This dilemma for Doghouse, torn between which friend he can help protect, is a great poignant moment to dwell on and explore the inner turmoil. Even if none of this scene was planned it would still have happened.

As long as we track the characters and their personalities and deal with the baggage, this scene was demanding to exist. If you set up all the correct background and explore the character's psychological make-up and deal with the baggage then the last third of your book will be written by your plot and characters. You will become a co-author, just watching what happens and writing it down.