John Braine on How to Write A Novel

John Braine was a famous Yorkshire novelist, considered one of the celebrated Angry Young Men of British literature. He wrote “Room at the Top.” His own life was fairly dramatic in that he rose quite high as a top author of his day and died bitter, alone and in debt at the age of 64. While some of his tenets on writing a novel seem a little old-fashioned compared with the typical advice one reads today, many points are spot-on, and serve to underscore the fact that certain rules of good writing are universal and timeless.

John Braine: “How to Write A Novel:”

• A novel is a story to be read for pleasure.

• As an author, you must write to please yourself and you must be completely honest about the world as you see it.

• Discipline and technique are infinitely more important than inspiration

• The people in your story should astound us

• Before writing your story, write a 500-word synopsis; the more quickly you write this, the better • Your novel should have at least 20 chapters (? Not sure if this is still relevant.)

• Each chapter must end with a hook to draw the reader on to the next chapter

• You must end your novel with a bang—nothing vague about the ending • Limit for length of time the story should occur—one year. (? Not sure what I think about this but may be some validity to it for the most part.)

• Your novel’s aim: show us your characters during a period when, suddenly, almost despite themselves, they start to move and everything they do and say is significant

• Characters should talk and think about the past. (There was much more interior dialogue and ruminating tolerated during Braine’s time. Today’s authors attempt to skillfully (unobtrusively) weave in back story when it’s needed to propel the story forward or explain certain coming action.)

• Always write from experience. A writer must watch for relevant detail, the detail which will epitomize the whole event.

• Writing is seeing. Always write as if the action of your novel were taking place before your eyes on a brightly lit stage.

• Nothing is shown without a purpose.

• People are places and places are people.

Next week, I will do a recap of the first five chapters of Les Edgerton’s manual, Hooked, a book that shows you how to “write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go.”

Which, I feel confident, is something we all strive to achieve.

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2 thoughts on “John Braine on How to Write A Novel

  1. I agree with Braine on most of his points. I’m also not sure about the 20 chapters rule–“The Great Gatsby” only has nine. The length of time in the story also varies, but I think that depends on the story itself. If it covers two crucial months of the hero’s story, the novel events take place in two months.

    As for the past, the character should feel like a person who has a history, which comes through the narrative. Back story should enhance the story’s action.

    Not everything I write comes from experience; it is influenced by emotions, though. If I don’t feel something, how will my readers?

    I visualize my stories as films. It makes it easier for me to write description.

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