If you’re new to “Summer’s Ultimate Novel,” click here to read the first post (listing ideas in a notebook), here to read the second post (choosing the right idea), here to read the third (themes and one-line synopsis of your novel), or here to read the fourth (one-paragraph synopsis).
What did you think of the one-paragraph synopsis—easy or frustrating? It’s never too late to share your examples or ask questions—contact me via email or comment.
Now that it’s almost June, I’m assuming most of you are out of school (unless your school is open year around; in which case, I’m sorry). You’ll need June to prepare and July to actually write the novel. So the June “assignments” will be more time-consuming than the May assignments were; we have lots to do before July!
Today we move away from synopses and the “big picture,” instead focusing on the setting of your novel. I’ll also discuss research, because you have one month to complete your first round of research (you can always do more after the first draft is over). Let’s dive in!
If you haven’t already, you need to choose at least one setting for your book. I decide on a setting without much conscious thought, mainly because my stories tend to rely on nature. My first novel centered on a forest preserve in southern Illinois; all I had to decide was what road Ivy lived on. Kari’s novel depends on a river, thus I found an appropriate river town for my setting. In both books, the settings reveal something about the character’s personality and create a stage for conflict and supsense. The settings are crucial to the characters’ growth and development throughout the story.
Examples of effective settings: TWILIGHT in rainy Forks; ANNE OF GREEN GABLES in gossip-rich Avonlea; THE BOOK THIEF in Nazi Germany. These stories wouldn’t the same without their settings, wouldn’t even make sense. Think of the genre “urban fantasy,” the label alone implying dark, gritty cities with secret underworlds. Every story is built on a setting, which should hopefully enhance the characters and the story’s mood (or you could contrast the setting with the mood, like a dark story in an otherwise pleasant place. Oh, the irony!).
Author Karen Wiesner gives some great advice about setting: “A character notices the things in his setting that are important to him … describe only what means the most to the character, what enhances the mood you’re attempting to create. If the description doesn’t advance some part of the character, setting, or plot development, it’s probably unnecessary.”
In WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, Donald Maass says, “A place lives most vividly through the eyes of characters. The unique way in which each one sees what is around him is how the setting itself becomes a character in the story.” He also says, “Our perception of place changes as we change.” The take-home message: each character in your novel will view the setting differently, and your main character’s view should change between the beginning and the end of the story. He or she is a new person at the end, with a new outlook on life.
Last month I wrote a post on how to research your setting, so please click here to learn more. That post referred to a second draft, but you can use the same approach for a first draft.
Setting isn’t the only thing you’ll need to research. You might have to study mythology, history, careers, etc. Libraries live for research—use them. Amazon is another way to find relevant books. You can search for any subject or tag to find resources or books similar to yours (reading fiction in my genre is my favorite kind of research!). The Internet can be perfect for researching … as long as the websites are reliable. Interviewing a professional is an exciting way to research!
Once you have a source, take notes in the “Research” section of your five-subject notebook. If all your observations are firsthand and original, you can jot down ideas however you want (but include a heading at the top of the page so you can easily find info later on). If you’re researching via books, you’ll need to keep track of sources. Remember making citations in English class? Don’t worry about formatting—just list the title, author, publisher, and year of publication. That way you can credit the book or find it again if you need to. Use quotations for direct quotes, not for paraphrasing. List the source at the top of the page, along with some key subject words to make the info easy to find.
If you type faster than you write, perhaps you’d rather type your research notes on the computer. For THE RIVER’S EDGE, I made a Microsoft Word document for all my research notes, and it turned out neater and more organized than my notes for EYES OF LIGHTNING. Plus, if you’re researching online, it’s easy to copy and paste into a word document. Just remember to include citations (the website, date, and author—if available).
This week’s assignment: choose the setting(s) for your novel. Order books from the library, browse a bookstore, or find decent websites. Whatever your sources, start the research process! The details you learn will spark new story ideas. Try to stay organized!
Next Saturday we’ll get to the heart of the novel—the characters. Good luck this week, and let me know if you have questions!
P.S. The title of this post is a reference to the song of the same title by Mat Kearney.