“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” —Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird.
What motivates someone to write novel-length fiction? It’s a solitary activity, and not for the faint-hearted. It means hundreds of hours tapping away at your keyboard, which is a challenge when you juggle it with childcare or a job.
While it’s true that every fiction writer has a story to tell, that is not sufficient reason for writing a novel. Stories are conceived to entertain, pass on learning, bring meaning, or share values, and novels are the “how” not the “why” of storytelling. They are the delivery vehicle an artist chooses from a menu of traditions that includes monologues, art, music, dance, memoirs, scripts, poems, drama, graphic novels, and video game writing.
In the age of mass marketing, most storytelling combines action and dialogue to convey a story. The medium a writer chooses is down to the experience they wish to create for their audience. Video games offer an interactive adventure. TV series and movies lean on acting, sound, and visuals, where the camera is the narrator, and we can only guess at what a character is thinking if they do not share their thoughts. This is how novels stand out.
The novel writer is rarely the person who is telling the story. They reveal the plot from the viewpoint of one or more of their characters. It may be from the perspective of a single person, like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games or Harry in the Harry Potter series. This works well where the plot is about one person and their struggle. But as in the real world, everyone’s viewpoint is not always the same, and sometimes a story is bigger than a single character or is better conveyed through the viewpoint of more than one pair of eyes. Think of Game of Thrones, which is a story about conflict between five rival kingdoms. Without its alternating character perspectives, it wouldn’t be the same story.
Novels are more introspective than other forms of storytelling. They allow the reader to step inside a character’s head and heart, and to see the world through their eyes. Unless the author chooses otherwise, the reader experiences what such characters see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. We are privy to their emotions, and get a firsthand insight into their beliefs, intentions, and goals. Being able to access a character’s mind gives the reader a deeper understanding of what happens in a novel, which for me is the reason for writing them.