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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Piecing Together A Novel - Ethan Spier

UK Author Ethan Spier shares his thoughts about piecing together his first science fiction novel, KINESIS. Please share your thoughts about constructing your novel in comments.

Firstly, thank you for reading this far. I’m certain you haven’t heard of me before and this blog is my first attempt at trying to impart any kind of advice to fellow writers. My name is Ethan Spier and I have been writing stories for many years, but still feel extremely new to this game. I’ve written short stories since I was a child but I have recently delved into the world of novel writing.

Secondly, thank you Mr. Gary Starta for providing this platform, on which I hope to provide some thoughts on the process of writing, and in particular writing in a way that might evoke emotions in our readers.

Thirdly, writing is hard! I don’t care what people say, the actual task of sitting down and creating something on a blank piece of paper (or computer monitor these days I suppose) is a difficult task. Well… at least I think so.

But I’m pretty sure that any writer - no matter how creative, prolific, talented or confident - all think the same thing at least once in their career.

When I wrote my debut novel, ‘Kinesis’, I thought about it several times a day and that was after planning the novel for a good six months before I actually began the first chapter.

I suppose the hard part isn’t the actual process of forming sentences out of words, but more the process of choosing the right words for any given sentence.

As a writer of fiction, I want to evoke emotional resp
onses from my readers and this is something that is much more difficult that I first suspected. When I write a scene, I know what I want the reader to feel; I know the emotional responses I want the reader to experience. But the actual task of choosing the correct words and sentence structure is something that can take a lot out of you!

Occasionally I’ll re-read one of my scenes and I’ll know that I’ve missed the target by some way and this can be extremely frustrating, but eventually the time comes when you just have to say ‘it’s as good as I can make it’.

Evoking the desired emotional response from a reader can be an extremely difficult task. Indeed, evoking any emotional response can be hard enough. After all these are just words on a piece of paper (or computer monitor these days I suppose… sigh).

I think something that can help in this task is making sure that you, as the writer, are absolutely certain where you are coming from in any given scene. I wrote ‘Kinesis’ a good year or two after coming up with the original idea. I didn’t feel like I could write it to begin with. I just had the flicker of an idea that I mulled over for a long time. Eventually I reached the point where I simply couldn’t not write it anymore. I was excited by the idea and as I thought about how the story would progress, I became more excited. I could envisage certain scenes in my head and I knew how I wanted the reader to feel during these scenes.

When I think about it, these are the scenes in the novel that were the easiest to write because I could feel the emotion as I wrote them. In my opinion, they are also the better pieces of writing in my novel. There were other scenes that were simply there to tell the part of the story that needed to be told. I had no particular emotion about them one way or the other, they simply needed to be produced in order to progress the narrative. But others – the ones I am most proud of – are the ones that were the clearest in my mind.

I suppose the point that I’m trying to get across (if anything) is, I think the best writing comes from the place where the author can see and feel the scene around them as they compose the piece. This might sound obvious, and to be honest… it is! But it’s also something that can’t really be over emphasized… at least in my own and humble opinion.

Basically, If you feel the emotion of what you write, as you write it, then you have a better chance of translating that to the reader.

And fourthly(?) - If nothing else, translating something to the reader is surely what writing is truly about.

Ethan Spier

Debut novel ‘Kinesis’ available for kindle:



Twitter: @ethanspier


  1. I absolutely agree with Ethan, in the sense that you have to believe in what your writing. Also you have to get into the character of the person, know him like yourself and understand why he feels, does and says what he does. knowing your character inside out is one of the most important aspects of writing so that you are absolutely positive of how that person will react in any given situation. Its not about you its about another person entirely and we have to remember not everyone is the same. I find showing the story rather than telling it like a narrator is a hard concept to grasp for new writers but once you get the idea, its a great tool for helping you to convey emotion. Brilliant post Ethan

    1. Thanks for the response Paula. I agree with your comment about showing rather than telling being a concept which is difficult for new writers. Sometimes when I re-read some of my scenes this is something that occasionally stands out as one of my weak points... but I'm working on it.

  2. Great post, Ethan. Yes, writing is extremely difficult and frustrating. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject:

    Whenever I sit down to write, I totally forget about the reader and any emotional response I might want to elicit, and focus on the protagonist. Like Paula, I'm totally inside the head of my protagonist (or, in the case of romance writing, two protagonists). I become my protagonist. It's a total-immersion process. My protagonist takes command and some amazing things emerge, things the author hadn't considered at the beginning.

    Another rule of thumb: Torture your protagonists. Make their lives as difficult as possible. Don't let them take the easy way out.

    Structure is important too. A good book consists of a series of scenes all strung together. I call them Action Scenes and Reaction Scenes.

    In every Action Scene, the POV character has a tangible goal with a compelling motive for achieving that goal. Something should prevent her from achieving that goal (conflict), often someone with an opposing goal. Conflict isn't necessarily nasty or unpleasant, but it must thwart the achievement of the goal. An Action Scene always ends in a disaster, or at least a compelling hook.

    In a Reaction Scene ,I show the protagonist's emotional reaction to what just happened, describe her dilemma (preferably two really lousy choices of how to proceed), and after much thrashing and soul-searching, the protagonist should select the option that is the best of a bad bunch (hopefully hooking the reader to keep turning the page). Sometimes I roll the character's reaction into the Action Scene or I may skip it altogether. It depends.

    1. Great point about torturing the protagonist. As writers are told time and again, 'always create as much conflict as possible'. This is something I completely subscribe to because the end result will be something that can only ever be interesting.

  3. Good post, Ethan. Writing IS hard work. Although according to Gene Fowler: "Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." It may look like we're not doing much, but we're cogitating fiercely.

    One suggestion I've found very helpful is to imagine how your scenes would be scripted for a movie. How would an actor portray anger, petulance, surprise? Use those visuals instead of just telling the reader what emotion your character is feeling.

    Another helpful suggestion is to read your work aloud. You'll hear what your reader "hears" in her head and any mistakes will jump out at you. I wish all the authors I've edited had done that!

    1. I definitely use the trick of visualising certain scenes as a movie. I think it can help you become more involved in the scene and, again, that can help you translate that to the reader.

  4. I think a lot of my writing style originates from when I played a lot of DnD and other RPGs as a kid. In those days I'd sketch out an adventure,- you know plot, maps, characters, monsters- then just go with it.
    Now when I write I construct a framework of plot, with key events factored in. I do chaaracters' bios and what 'journey' i want them to make. I do maps and history and background.
    Then I think 'times a wasting' and crack on. See where it goes. See what happens with dialogue. Visualise scenes then mess them around by being cruel to the characters.
    And the book sort of happens and sort of changes as I go along and come up with sub-plots and arcs.
    I suppose the true skill is in the harsh self-editing part where we weed out our excesses and trim the story. But for me the fun is in that splurge of words where you just write and get carried along with the momentum.