Guiding Questions

Mrs. Powell,  my seventh and eighth-grade English teacher, taught her students to ask the questions “Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?” when we wanted to write something. Her guidance helped me write many pages of reports, manuals, grammar books, articles, and research plans. This superficially simple system is now helping me focus the development of my novel.

Whom Should I Write a Novel About?

I have asked myself the following types of questions:

  • Whom I have known?
  • What do I know about them?
  • Should I write about individuals I have known?

Ultimately, I rejected the idea of writing about a real person because I want to write fiction. But a writer has to decide whether to create entirely new types or build composites of personalities they have encountered.

Created characters can be loved or despised. Reading novels, I learned how to build friendships, though some of my best friends when I was a child were heroines in my favorite novels. The boys I dreamed of were much more like the knights in shining armor in my beloved fairy tales than they were like the guys in my class at school.  Reading novels, I learned how to deal with aggressive people; this helped me in real life.

I read a quote once by an author (I cannot, unfortunately, be precise about its origin or accuracy) that matched my personal experience, “I come from inside the books I have read.” So, my big question is whom do I create? Heroes, villains, winners, losers, or simply conventional men and women?

What Do I Need to Know to Write a Novel?

What we know is definitely related to when we have lived. Each decade has its style, jargon, slang, music, and problems. To echo Mikhail Bakhtin’s work, what we know is also dialogical: it crosses generations from those who came before us to those who have followed or will follow us. We learn about those who preceded us in our schooling, in our religious training, in our communities, and from our elders. Stop and think about a story you know from each of those settings. Whenever I think of my mother, I remember her reciting poems to us, poems that she had memorized as a child. Her experience of the poems became my experience of the poems. She loved “The Sugar Plum Tree” by Eugene Field so much she had it printed and framed for each of her grandchildren. My daughter’s copy hung in her room when she was a child. We also know stories about our parents’ mothers and fathers and sometimes about our grandparents’ families. Some are told over dinner and others are printed out in published books. What do I need to know about my characters to create them to fit their era?

Where Should My Novel Take Place?

“Where?” can refer to where we live, where we have traveled, where we want to go. But where also comes from the books we have read or books that have been read to us. Books have taken me places I have never been—to other continents, to the jungle, to outer space, to other planets. As I have worked on what type of fiction and in what setting I want to write, I seem to always return in my mind’s eye to Colorado. I have lived on the Western Slope and on the Eastern Slope which have very distinct geography, weather, and types of people. It is an environment I love and understand, so I think I have a firm grounding to write about my “Where?”

Why Do Individuals/Characters Do what They Do?

Of particular interest to me is the “Why?” “Why?” of course moves into premises, values, justifications, plans, excuses, disappointments, loss, emotions of every timber. Exploring what I know about the “Why?” helps me address what I have learned about human beings. I have taken courses in normal and abnormal psychology, as well as courses in sociology and literature. The “Whys?” that I want to explore do not fall on the pathological side. The deranged is too dark for me, too frightening. I am not interested in writing a “Clockwork Orange” or a “Frankenstein.” What I am interested in is more ordinary personalities. I am interested in growth and development. I wonder why individuals become who they are capable of becoming or, on the other hand, fail to do so.

How Do I Approach Writing a Novel with Meaning?

To be capable of becoming a novelist, I need to question how I think. This is new territory for me. Reading a novel allows readers to get a glimpse of how the author thinks, what the author is thinking about, and why the author is thinking it. Now I have to apply my skills to an analysis of my own writing mind. No one else knows for sure how we think, though they may wonder. A friend of mine recently told me that I always look as though I am chuckling over some hilarious secret. When my daughter was little she was sure that I could read her mind. I reassured her that her mind was her own. She could think anything she wanted to think about and I would never know what it was. She proceeded to give me a thinking test, scrunching up her brow, and looking as though she were in deep thought. Of course, I failed her test.

Reading allows us to explore questions that absorb writers. I will keep Mrs. Powell in mind as I venture into exploring my own questions through my writing. As an author, I definitely want my readers to be intrigued by the questions my characters pose.

Update on my goal setting:

  1. For four months now, I have been able to carve out time for my creative writing and the necessary research to support it.
  2. Since April 7, 2018, I have continued to make progress on my writing. I have added new chapters and gone back to original chapters and expanded them. It was a struggle this month to reach my page goal. Today my page counter should stand at 120 and it reads 107. It is amazing how many existential events occur to interfere with one’s daily plans.
  3. I have successfully posted four blogs on the seventh of the month which is my goal for 2018. This one is my fifth.
  4. Additionally, my network of kindred spirits is growing because I have attended about one workshop per month. I have also dipped my toes a little deeper into the social media pool by attending a workshop on branding yourself as an author. Luke Humbrecht, who is a marketing consultant as well as a StoryBrand Certified Guide, discussed how to describe oneself and one’s work in a short statement. I am still working on mine since my work is definitely still “in-progress.”

 

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