The Novel Is A Living Organism

Ray Bradbury wrote:

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.”

Are you in any way like Ray Bradbury? Do you, once you have an idea for a book, sit at your desk and hit the keyboard and let things happen? Or are you a writer who plans in detail? Do you work out every single detail of character, scene, and locale of your novel before you actually write it?

I myself start with an idea. I know what the beginning of my story, the first chapter of my novel is, and I know how it will end. Most of the time I start with the last chapter and work backwards. Sometimes it’s easy, the story develops in my mind, whole and perfect. At other times I get stuck in the middle and it is then that I feel the urge to plot. What I need then is a simple mechanical structure so that the events in my story will have a logical consistency and form. Nothing complicated, simple basic steps that connect the beginning, the middle and the end. In the words of Orson Scott Card:

“One of the things that fooled me on that first draft was the idea that if a novel is ten times the length of a short story, it must have ten times the plot. But that is rarely the case.”

Some writers plan extensively, as Taylor Caldwell once said:

“I know a novelist, now dead, who made a blueprint of every novel he wrote. It was a “project” to him, meticulously designed and outlined and filled in, long before he actually wrote the book at all. He had dozens of details about his characters, the discussions they had, about series of actions, one by one. The novelist died when the novel was two-thirds finished, but so exact were chapters outlined, even to the last “mood”, that one of his relatives was able to complete the book.”

While other writers start with an idea, a sentence, and take it from there. In the words of Gore Vidal:

“To keep a journal is a very good thing if you want to be a journalist. The novelist starts with a sentence: “I am Myra Breckinridge, who no man can possess.” Well, that’s all I needed. I didn’t know where the book was going. And so, from one sentence came the next sentence. Then you weave the sentences together, and the sentences have their own kinetic energy.”

Hence what works for one writer might not work for you. And no writer, teacher or creative writing instructor can tell you how to plot your novel. Therefore you have to be your own master and find your own way because after all:

“The novel is a living organism and it changes day by day.” Taylor Caldwell


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6 Responses to The Novel Is A Living Organism

  1. I’m like you, in that I start with an idea. I only ever plot as a last resort – I find the process of sitting down thinking about what I’m going to write excrutiating; I keep thinking to myself ‘why am I planning what I’m going to write, when I could just write it?’ I let the novel/short story develop on its own. I know that it takes way more than one draft to make a great novel, I don’t worry too much about finishing it and realising it’s gone in the wrong direction. I guess I plan retrospectively – I get 50,000 words in and then decide on a much better way the story could have gone!

  2. I am not one to plot out a story, unless it’s a mystery and it’s necessary to figure out where to put clues and red herrings. My teen novels were finished one day at a time, waking each day with the next chapter in my head. Once everything was written, the editing began and I was thankful I had a word processor that made the process of moving scenes around much easier than when I was writing with paper & pencil!

  3. Jen C Hay says:

    Hi, I’ve nominated you for the One Lovely Blog award, check out for details! Jen

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