This series of articles deals with the construction of the commercial novel - the popular categories or genre. Literary works may have different and individual structures.
Most everyone can write a narrative, but merely writing narrative is the least skill a writer needs to succeed as a published author. There are no rules in writing but there are conventions which writers should adhere to if they wish to be published.
This article, the first of the series, deals with the initial steps to be taken in writing the successful novel.
For the new writer - let us first look at the basic conventions of presentation before getting down to the mechanics of writing the novel. The first person who will see your manuscript is the editor of your target publisher. Publishers are besieged daily by probably hundreds of manuscripts from hopeful writers. The editor can tell at a glance at the first page whether it is worth his while to continue to read. The 'clean' appearance of a manuscript may help persuade him to do so. The basics of presentation of a manuscript are that it should be double spaced on one side of the paper only with reasonable margins either side for the editor to make notes.
It is best if the pages appear to have just come out of a typewriter. The best font is Courier New or Courier 12. Avoid fancy fonts which will annoy the editor. Fussiness in a manuscript appears unprofessional.
Do number each page at the top right-hand corner. (No number appears on the title page - see below). For a busy editor page numbers are harder to spot if they appear at the bottom of the page. Clarity is everything.
Do not include the title of the work on any page of the manuscript. Instead, the title and the 'by line' of the author should appear on a separate sheet of paper - the title page. At the bottom of this page include the author's name, address and telephone number, also the number of words in the manuscript.
The chapter heading i.e. 'Chapter One' appears half way down the first page of the manuscript. There is no need of a 'by line' here. Do not indent the first line, but each paragraph thereafter should be indented.
Each chapter should begin on a new page. It goes without saying that each chapter should be a separate document on the computer. Create a folder in which to store these documents. Get into the habit of creating new documents each time you start a new chapter, otherwise the whole thing will become unwieldy when revising and editing.
When saving chapter documents it is a good idea to name them starting - chapter 01, 02, 03 etc. so that the computer keeps them in order in your folder. Saving and storing chapter documents by name i.e. 'chapter one, chapter two, chapter three...' is meaningless to a computer. Without a folder it will store them in any odd space it can find, making it difficult for the writer to find them again. Even if kept in a folder, if the chapters are not saved numerically, it will store them haphazardly which can lead to problems for the author and wastes time.
Commercial novels range in length from around 80,000 words to 120,000 words. Length, of course, depends on the breadth and scope of the tale you want to tell. However, when deciding the length of your proposed novel bear in mind the initial costs to the publisher in producing the novel. Shorter novels require smaller outlay then big blockbusting novels. Costs may be a factor in the publisher's decision as to whether or not to take on your novel so it is worth bearing in mind.
There can be as many chapters in your novel as is required to tell your story. Chapters can range in length from several thousands words to just one word.
However, it is best if the author does not think in terms of chapters when considering the structure and construction of his novel, but in terms of scenes. Chapters are essential in novels, but they are not the building bricks of the novel. The fundamental building bricks are words, of course, but we need to start at the next level - scenes. Novels are structured in scenes - one scene following another. It should become obvious to the author which scenes belong together to create a chapter. A chapter can contain one scene or ten. There is no hard and fast convention there.
There is a great deal of work to do before starting to write. The big question which haunts many writers is - 'What shall I write about? The next article in the series explores that vexed question. Finding an idea - and making it viable.