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I t strikes me that writing a novel is a bit like designing a kitchen.

Writing a novel and designing a kitchen

Designing a kitchen

J ack and I are embarking on a brand-new experience for us… we are about to have our first ever new kitchen fitted.

Having decided towards the end of last year that a new kitchen would not only add considerable value to the house but more importantly, would bring us endless joy, we took the plunge in the January sales and ordered a new kitchen. Very quickly, a design consultant came out and measured up the space, discussing with us what would, and would not work, and coming up with some ideas we hadn’t thought about. A few days later, we went into the showroom to meet him, see our virtual new kitchen on the screen, and finalise details of worktops, splashback, sink, tap, etc etc.

It was great fun wandering around the kitchen displays choosing the various elements and watching as he dropped them into the virtual design. Apart from the splashback which we were still humming and hawing about, we were happy with our choices.

A week later, the fitter arrived to confirm the practicality of putting design into effect.

I had no concept of how many more small decisions would have to be made and how many unforeseen potential obstacles would have to be dealt with in order to move forward.

Firstly, there were new regulations  to be adhered to (aren’t there always?) that meant numerous, and expensive, electrical works from moving or eliminating sockets to changing the main fuse box. Then there was lighting to think about, accommodating our existing appliances into the design and associated plumbing works, how to deal with the loss of sockets at counter level and not least, disposal of the old kitchen. Did we want to sell it on, or just scrap it?

Two hours later, our heads were spinning, we had made various small but important changes and we still had to finalise what we wanted by way of splashback.

On Saturday morning, armed with the knowledge of what would, and would not work, we returned to the showroom and within 35mins, had made our final decisions and are now delighted with what we hope will be the final kitchen.

Writing a novel

P rogress on my first novel is continuing apace since I rediscovered my mojo in between Christmas and New Year. Having languished for months on a paltry 4,000 words, I’m amazed to find I have now notched up almost 20,000 words and am just getting beyond the opening chapters.

Long before I put finger to keyboard on the text, I mapped out the arc of the novel in considerable detail. In fact, I drafted the arc of a trilogy. Using Scrivener’s exceedingly helpful outlines, I had also drafted my main characters, the settings, and the key events that would drive the story forward.

I had in essence, designed my novel.

Then I began drafting the narrative. At first, I struggled to get my head around writing a historical novel, constantly drifting from historical fiction to the brink of history book, and finally running out of steam. Distracted by the ‘day job’, I let the novel languish for months.

Now I’m completely over that hurdle, finally understand the nuanced differences between writing a novel and writing a history book and am absolutely loving the writing process. The best thing I am learning is that, despite having the detailed components and virtual outline of the novel, I am now finding multiple subtleties of plot twist and character development emerging.

And like the difference between designing and then fitting a kitchen, there’s a world of difference between laying out events for my novel on a two-dimensional timeline, and bringing them to life on the page. Lots of small details I hadn’t thought about are raising their heads and are subtly changing how those events play out and how they affect my characters.

In turn, as my characters encounter the various events, I find they are not reacting in the way that I thought they would. Through the writing process, they have developed beyond the planning stage and are now dictating the text rather than vice versa. Where they decide to go, my text must follow, regardless of what I planned for them before I began.

It’s both scary and fascinating but hopefully, both the kitchen and the novel will turn out to meet, or preferably exceed, my expectations.


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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Richard Attree says:

    Interesting analogy, Andy. Having tackled both design challenges a few times, I agree both involve integrating a whole lot of small choices into a grand scheme, but for me a novel was more like building a whole house, a la ‘Grand Designs’.

    • 😂 Fair point, Richard, I don’t disagree! It was simply one of those ‘it strikes me that…’ moments which I thought was quite apt to my current circumstances. I like your Grand Designs analogy (one of my absolute favourite programmes!) and if my novel turns out to be even half as polished and attractive as so many of those homes are, I’ll be delighted 😁

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