Writing a Novel is the distillation of nearly ten years of Richard Skinner’s experience of teaching the Faber Academy program of the same name. It answers questions from ‘Where will I get my ideas from?’ through to ‘Should I write in first or third point of view?’.
Drawing on advice given by every writer from Aristotle to Bob Dylan – plus all the novelists in between – Skinner provides a clear framework in which you can start to weave your words.
If haven’t actually started writing your first novel, this may not be the book for you.
Unless you’re the kind of person who wants to know everything possible about the mechanics of the novel before you begin. Planners. This book is definitely for writers who are planners.
If, like me, you’re a pantser (someone who starts writing a novel having no idea what will actually happen during the story and just muddles their way through) Writing a Novel may quite possibly cause you to hyperventilate, freeze and give up before you even start.
For fellow pantsers, I recommend you buy a copy after you’ve written your first 10,000 words or so and are crying underneath your desk because you’re just not sure whether you should be writing in first or third person; or because you’ve just read an article about omniscient narrators and can’t figure out whether your story beats are in the right act or something about pacing and conflicting antitagonistic whaaaaaaat?
This book will be a huge help for organic writers (I believe that’s the new fancy term for ‘pantsers’) at that point – both for getting you back on track and helping you procrastinate during your existential crisis over whether you should really be a writer or whether you should just stay in your day job that pays the bills (top tip: you should do both).
My favourite pieces of writing advice
Skinner has peppered fabulously useful nuggets of advice from authors among his own slabs of wisdom. Here’s some advice and wisdom which really resonated for me.
One of my biggest faults as a writer is ‘white room syndrome’. In my first drafts I’m quite appalling at actually describing places. To make the reader feel like they’ve been transported directly to the location of your story Skinner recommends using qualia:
‘Qualia’ is the scientific term for specific instances of our subjective experience of the world – the smell of coffee, for instance, or the sound of a waterfall. Think back to a good holiday you have had: what are the strongest sensory impressions you remember? The burning sand on a beach? The heat of the sun? The colour of a material? The taste of a local dish? Looking at the scene in front of you via sensory impressions like these will help you to see it more directly, as if for the first time.
I love how Skinner manages to take some fairly opaque quotes from great writers and gives them clear meaning. He inserts this eloquent quote from Ursula Le Guin in his section on the difference between ‘character’ and ‘characterisation’:
Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts – only in the truth. You get facts from outside. The truth you get from inside. ~ Ursula Le Guin
What is the Faber Academy?
Founded by London publishing house Faber & Faber, the Faber Academy taught its first course in Paris in 2008. It has since branched out internationally, coming to Australia’s Allen & Unwin in 2010. The Academy offers courses of varying lengths to connect aspiring authors with industry experts.
The 6-month Writing a Novel course is the most famous program, resulting in published stories such as Jessica Rowe’s memoir, Is This My Beautiful Life?, Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic and Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn.
About the author
Richard Skinner is the Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy. He has taught the Faber Academy’s flagship six-month course ‘Writing A Novel’ since its inception in 2009 and has helped hundred of people to tell their stories, including Baileys Prize-shortlisted Laline Paull and international bestseller S. J. Watson. Richard is also a talented novelist in his own right: his most recent book, The Mirror, was described as “beautifully written. immersive. captivating” by the Guardian.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.