How to Begin a Novel?

Choosing a Novelistic Form

Different readers like different types of novels. A novel format that has always held my attention as a reader is the Bildungsroman. The German term tends to be used in literature books because the definition is complex in English. In German, Roman means novel and Bildung means education. Bildungsromans are stories about the struggles and lessons the young hero or heroine experience as they move into young adulthood. Thus, they are novels that focus on personal development.

Reading Rousseau’s Emile, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale, or George Sand’s (Aurore Dupin Dudevant’s) Consuelo, I could always identify with the main character. As a reader, I yearned and learned along with the hero or heroine in my parallel shadow existence.

What intrigues me in a novel is the emotions that accompany the creative, social, interpersonal, and psychological growth of the character. It is probably the reason I became a teacher, counselor, and educational trainer in my career. If I wasn’t writing fiction, at least I was always involved in a dramatic moment. This fascination with human growth and development makes me want to try my hand at creating such a story.

Selecting a Time Period to Intensify the Form

Novels can be historical, contemporary, or set in the future. Selecting a period that I lived through would allow me to write about what I experienced, read, and learned about at the time. I would be more knowledgeable about the news, photos, and period resources necessary, and better recognize what was lasting and what has been shown to be ephemeral. It would allow me to create the verisimilitude essential to a story whose truth resonates with the reader, allowing me to concentrate on the storyline. Because one time in my life that I loved was the 1970’s, perhaps I could write a Bildungsroman focused on those years.

Examining My Personal Shtick

I have always loved words. My favorite one is a French word, “l’épanouissement” which means blossoming, developing, spreading, flourishing, ripening, or flowering. One reason I like it is that it means all of the above English meanings in one word. The word itself seems to “s’épanouir”!

Nevertheless, the translation into French of Bildungsroman is not a “roman d’épanouissement,” which one could expect, but rather a roman de formation or roman d’apprentissage. Interestingly, “formation” in French is used in the way we use training in English, as in teacher training, while “apprentissage” means learning. In the hero version of this novelistic form, the hero achieves what is necessary to move forward. Emile’s education works for him. Wilhelm Meister persists. In the feminine version, the heroine often dies. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary commits suicide. Rousseau dispatches Julie in La Nouvelle Héloïse. George Sand, on the other hand, breaks with the tradition of the dead heroine and allows her Consuelo to triumph musically and spiritually.

This fascination with the Bildungsroman and with blossoming leads me to my novel format of choice and to the general theme of the novel I want to write. I want to write a roman d’épanouissement. I want to write about a heroine who blossoms and flourishes. Yet, I also want to juxtapose my heroine with characters who fail to bloom because of some character flaw or because they get caught up in other people’s expectations.

Life is about blossoming or wilting or dying, as is the novel form.

Update on my goal setting:

  1. Since March 7th, 2018, I have continued to make progress on my writing despite having to do taxes and despite having house guests for two weeks. What I have learned this month is how the expression “Life happens” encapsulates our personal vulnerability in the face of daily existence.
  2. For the first three weeks of March, I did not manage to keep to a schedule nor did I write at least one page per day. Consequently, at the end of the month, I had to practically kill myself to catch up. I did manage to get my page count up to my goal of 90 pages. I also learned that I am capable of writing 10 pages a day!
  3. Additionally, I was able to turn in a proposal for the RMFW Gold Conference 2018 by the due date of March 31, despite having to spend an afternoon at Apple having a bug removed from my computer. March is aptly named for Mars the god of war—or in my case, the god of personal battles.

I am finding it to be challenging and rewarding to set my goals and challenge myself to reach them each month. The flow of my writing is smoother. My creativity is ripening. It is much more fun to feel satisfaction rather than regret.

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