Book Review: The Novel Project, Graeme Simsion
If you’re one of the many who wonder if it’s a novel, but feel overwhelmed by the process, then Graeme Simsion has written the book for you. The author of the international best-selling Rosie trilogy will take you step-by-step with his latest release, a non-fiction title that lives up to its name. The novel project.
A few things to understand before you dive into creating your literary masterpiece under her guidance – firstly, reading the third book in the Rosie trilogy is highly recommended, The Rosie Effect before starting “The Novel Project” as it is heavily referenced throughout.
Second, this book doesn’t shy away from addressing writers who not only want to be published, but are naturally drawn to being “plotters” (breaking the project down into methodical steps) as opposed to “pants”. (those who make up the story as they go).
Read: Book Review: Among Our Arms, Ben Aaronovitch
Nor is it about the art of writing prose. As Simsion says, ‘…I focus on the writing process as a whole, especially the development of structure and outline, rather than the shimmering sentences.’
The novel project addresses the process of writing a novel in three high-level phases: planning, writing, and rewriting (including editing).
The book is divided into two specific parts. “Part I: Preparation” includes Chapters 1-4 – Overview, Being a Writer, Creativity, and Structure, with each chapter containing further subsections. “Part II: Process” details chapters 5 through 14 and covers topics in detail, including concept, synopsis, brainstorming, and rewriting.
Simsion strives to let his readers know that although he presents novel writing as a highly structured practice, each of the steps can be modified to suit one’s preferences. He often reminds readers that they are free to break with convention, but advises them to be aware and informed. It encourages exploring all structure options before embracing the freedom to write your way: confidence backed by knowledge.
Perhaps the most pertinent advice is to create a short premise as the first step. Simsion stresses the importance of being clear about what exactly your novel is about before spending a lot of time on it. In fact, he suggests that novelists should not start writing until they have refined this and are satisfied with it.
From there, ask yourself the big question: what is special about your concept? You believe in it ? At the heart of any great novel is the writer’s ability to raise dramatic questions that the reader is eager to have answered. Simsion suggests starting with the drama, especially for new writers, so readers are captivated from the start. Conflict and risk are also crucial elements, and this can be between two characters or internally.
There are many practical tips: Keep a list of story ideas. Think of mash-up scenarios. Mix times and points of view (first, second, third person) to experiment. Ask ‘what if?’ to start something more interesting in your story. Avoid writing anything semi-autobiographical – instead draw inspiration from real people and events you are close to so you can observe them. Simsion also lists many external resources to investigate, including some of his own writings.
Another focus is on interesting character development and the vital aspect of including an arc or character transformation. In most cases, the characters will drive the story, so they need to have depth and be believable. He advocates setting up character profile documents and asking what two things your character wants most, then creating a situation that forces them to choose between them: their decisions will reveal more of their character.
One of the most important aspects of Simsion’s method is described in Chapter 8 (Brainstorming) and Chapter 9 (Organizing the story), which introduce the concept of the 180 physical cards. This part is all about story generation and took him six months to complete Rosie’s result (while working on other projects). Writers should fill in the idea cards regardless of story sequence and also use this time to do research. Arranging the cards into acts (1, 2a, 2b, and 3) helps visualize problem areas and allows you to move from one part of the story to another in the synopsis territory you already completed at the start.
There are many details about the purpose that specific acts play in any novel. For example, in Act 1, a dramatic question should be posed before the turning point in Act 1 steers the story in another direction. In Act 2, complications arise, and so on. Anyone familiar with The Hero’s Journey will be familiar with this three-act structure – Simsion examines it in detail, referencing films and novels readers can relate to to illuminate his points. He also stresses that the first draft should aim to maintain momentum and creativity – quality comes third.
While it can sometimes make writing a novel daunting, with so many steps to go through, in the end (much like his “Rosie” trilogy), Simsion’s book is uplifting and encouraging – enough to inspire a visit to the stores to buy 180 cards!
The novel projectGraeme Simsion
Editor: Text Editing
Posted: March 1, 2022