Spending this weekend working on your novel? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, the finish line is almost in sight (keep going, you’re doing great!). Or perhaps you’re using this year’s lockdowns to get started on an idea that’s been nagging at you, or to edit a full draft of a novel you’ve been writing for a while.
‘Without thinking, absolutely spontaneously, write down a single word that sums up your novel and what it’s about. Anything. The first word that occurs to you. Then write one sentence. Summarise what you’re trying to do. What is at the heart of this novel? It may feel impossible, but you can do it.’
Sabrina often suggests her students look at other novels to help with that one sentence. ‘Take a novel off the shelf and look at the blurb on the back. You’re likely to find a one liner that is the key question, dilemma or heart of the novel. Now write your own that answers the question: what’s your novel about?’
Once you think you have that perfect sentence, Joanna suggests looking at it a second time from an entirely different angle: ‘If you’ve described your novel thematically, look at it in terms of plot instead. And if you’ve written about the story, write a sentence about the novel’s themes instead. At all times, you will come back to that same essential question: What’s my book really about?’
Wherever you are in the writing process, keep that answer front and centre in your mind as you continue. And when you have a finished draft, Sabrina explains how you can use it to start building the pitch for your novel: ‘Develop that one-liner to include some characters, setting, crisis, tone, motivation – think in terms of one paragraph; the way you’d describe your novel to an interested agent who asked what it was about. Eventually this can become the beginning of your synopsis.’
Joanna and Sabrina are both tutors on the January iteration of Writing a Novel. Applications close on 31 December.