Monday, November 14, 2016

Your Novel Is Like A Body

Stephanie here! I'm happy to introduce Abigail Mouring to you all. Today, she's offering us a unique perspective of how to view your novel. I think you'll enjoy it!

Abigail Mouring is a sophomore in college who loves linguistics, Charles Dickens, and singing at the top of her lungs. She loves to write stories that are unique and that mix several genres, yet have themes that are grounded in timeless truths. So far, she has completed one novel, is currently writing another novel, and has dabbled in a few short stories and journalistic articles. She knows personally the power of words to change hearts, change lives, and change the world, and she hopes to give this blessing to many others through her own writings!

Do you ever hear something so often, you stop really hearing it?
I do. And, I don’t know about you, but it is for that very reason that I love verbal illustrations. My favorite part of a very technical article or textbook is when the author says, “For example...” That is my cue to get excited, since I know that something memorable is coming my way.
And here’s something else easy to remember: your novel is like a body.    
 The Heart of a Novel:
It is odd how we refer to the heart when we speak about love or strong emotions. After all, the heart pumps blood and...well, it pumps blood. But really, I think the reason this expression is used is because if anything happens to your heart, you are in serious trouble – if not dead. Therefore, if any emotion comes "from your heart" it must be important.
So what does this have to do with a novel?
Have you read a book that was entertaining, but left you feeling empty inside? Not necessarily empty in a bad way, but empty in the sense that you haven't been changed -- even slightly. Every meaningful novel has a heart that is central to the story and gives every event purpose. The heart of a novel is the kind of theme that doesn't just appear at the climax in an epic line, but is woven through the story so tightly that, if it was taken away, the novel would collapse. This is what makes the difference between "good" novels and "great" novels.    

The Brain of a Novel:
The human brain is fascinating! You only need an elementary level introduction to it before you realize what a masterpiece your skull holds captive. Every movement -- let me say that again -- EVERY MOVEMENT happens because of your brain. We speak, think and move coherently because of the brain. All our body systems are controlled by it. 
So what does this have to do with a novel?  

Your novel plot should be like the brain. I could go on for forever and two days with analogies, but I'll just pick out three.

1) Logic. Imagine if your brain just allowed things to "happen" for no apparent reason at all. There you are, eating breakfast, when you suddenly jump up and start dancing. With a novel, all events should be intertwined and controlled by the plot that you shape. No one likes to be reading a story and suddenly get pulled off on a rabbit trail.
2) Complexity. Our brain can multi-task, hone in on one project, keep pace with conversation in a group, go deep in conversation with a friend, and just be an amazing juggler of all that needs to be done in our lives. In the same way, the scenes and conversations that make up our plots should not sit idle or serve as fluffy fillers, but rather be intentional in their purpose, moving the plot along.
3) Change: Brains are built to think – to interact with others and with the world around us. Constant repetition of a task or inaction can cause us to zone out or (even worse) to be painful aware of just how bored we are. Similarly, readers are quick to take note of plot that is just killing time, or isn’t really going anywhere. I like to think of it this way: there should never be a moment where the reader sets down my story and has no curiosity about what will happen next.  

The Limbs of a Novel:
Having a brain is a good thing. Having a heart is a good thing. In fact, if you didn't have these things, you wouldn't exactly be you -- or anything. But what's the good of thinking, "I would like to walk across the room," and having the cardiovascular ability to do so if you have no legs?
So what does this have to do with a novel?
 Characters are the limbs (the arms and legs) of a novel. Without characters, the plot (the brain) and the theme (the heart) of a novel are lifeless. Characters draw the readers in. Characters give readers a someone to mentally feel and fight for. Characters are the ones who take on your plot and theme and give them the spark of reality.
1) Just like our limbs carry us around from place to place, characters are what move the plot from scene to scene.
2) The same hands that can play with a puppy can also pull gunky hair balls out of the bathroom sink. The same legs that can dance the night away can also push against freezing, raging, river rapids. Characters must do the hard work as well as the enjoyable work. After all, that’s life, and that is what we relate to as readers.
3) Perhaps most importantly, we use our limbs to be relational. A handshake, a high-five, a hug, a dance, a friendly elbow in the side – we use our limbs to reach out and build relationships. I bring up this point, because I am of the firm belief that our lives are shaped by relationships. What follows then, is that we should invest in shaping relationships that our characters build off of and operate in.        
You may have heard some of these tips before, but I hope that hearing them in a different way helps you in your quest to be a better writer! Keep calm, stay strong, write on. 

Which part of writing stories comes easiest to you?


  1. Yay Abby!!! It's super cool to see a very good friend of mine here on GTW!
    ~Julian Daventry

  2. I LOVE YOUR ANALOGY!!!! I'm not sure what comes easier to me... I would used to have said the Brain. But any more the limbs seem to be doing pretty good... and of course, the heart takes work... a lot of exertions of get that blood pumped to it... but it's a fun process, with lots of exciting exertion ;)

    1. That's a good point -- everything works together in the body like it does in the novel. Glad you liked it!

  3. It's amazing to see an Order of the Pen member posting here! I fangirled so hard when I saw your name on the list! Great job, Abby!

    1. Thank you Sarah! You are the one who introduced me to GTW in the first place. Keep being amazing!

  4. A very interesting post, Abby! Thanks for writing it! :)

    I think, sometimes, the easiest part of a novel for me is the writing itself. Sometimes I struggle with writing multi-faceted characters, integral themes, or coherent plots. The actual words are sometimes the easiest for me. And then, other times, nothing makes any sense. :D

    1. Very true! I agree that enjoying the words is a huge part of being a writer.

  5. It seems like a lot of good thought went into this. I don't know if I'll ever think of my stories in quite the same way ever again.

  6. Great tips and amazing post! I really enjoyed the analogy. ;)

  7. So proud of you Abby!!! This is a very well written article and I'm so happy I've been able to see your writing journey progress over the last couple years!