This article was originally published in The Writer’s Everything, Issue #002.
You’ve heard that it can happen. You know people who have experienced it, and they say it was the greatest experience ever. They were writing a novel, and they said an entire section, if not the whole thing, wrote itself.
So what’s the secret to being able to experience this amazing occurrence in your own writing? Is there one single thing that, if it exists, will cause everything else to fall in line with minimal interference from you, its author?
What does it take for a novel to write itself?
Perhaps you might think of having a setting. If you’re in a galaxy far, far away, the story will just write itself. But will it? Well, why are the people shooting at the other people and trying to destroy their big space ship? See, now you have to start asking yourself questions, rather than writing your adventure.
Perhaps you might think that you just need to zoom in on the setting, focusing on something more specific. If you choose to write about the American Civil War, then the story will just write itself. But will it? Is your main character going to be in the North, or are they going to be in the South? Are there going to be major characters on both sides, or will neither side feature a primary character? Will the story focus on civilians, casualties, or other nations during this tumultuous time in the history of the United States of America?
Perhaps you might think that you need to have your characters established. If you know you’re going to be writing about a super- powered mutant, then some aspects of your plot might begin to fall in place. Honestly, I believe you’d be on the right track.
The specific answer, in my mind, is character motivation. When you know what your character wants and why they want it, then you’re in a great position to watch the events of your story unfold before your eyes.
The Rebels want freedom from oppression, and thus, they attack the Empire with the goal of toppling it. The Empire wants complete and total dominance, and thus, they build a weapon that is capable of destroying an entire planet in a single blast. The Rebels don’t want to die, so they attempt to destroy said weapon.
A character that doesn’t want anything isn’t going to do anything, and a character that doesn’t do anything is boring.
If I was a tiny gardener in my own little slice of paradise, I wouldn’t go on a year-long journey into hell for no good reason. But if my best friend is making that journey, because doing so means that the entire world will be saved from evil, then I would go too, both to help stop that evil, and, more importantly, to help my friend stay safe.
As long as you know what your characters want, even if you know nothing else, you’re ready to write a novel. In fact, why don’t you develop two characters on the fly, right now. Give them both opposite motivations. Make it impossible for both of them to be simultaneously successful, and see what happens. I bet the result will be a fun, enjoyable, exciting story.
The Writer’s Everything
This article, along with many others, was featured in a previous issue of my writing journal, The Writer’s Everything, in which I, along with occasional guest contributors, provide essays, guides, encouragement, motivation, writing prompts, character bio development kits, and anything else that can help you turn your dream of becoming a writer into a reality.
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