Edward Docx – How to Write a Novel in Forty-Five Minutes

“Remember,” says Edward Docx, journalist, playwright, writer for film, TV and Radio and of course, novelist, in fact, you name it, he’s written it, “you have a duty to the fiction.”

See writing as a spell that you cast on yourself every day, even if it is for a short time, soon it will ensnare little snippets or excerpts of “gritty realism” from the daily life that surrounds you, you can then wantonly incorporate them into your writing.

Edward took off his “Anxiety Rucksack” and “left it by the door” advising us all to do the same. Take all those ridiculous anxieties, the likes of: am I as good as “Tolstoy”? No. Stuff them in the “Anxiety Rucksack”, take it off, leave it by the door and then write. Writing is an anxious business and if we allow ourselves to be corrupted by such uncontrollable anxieties then we will not get that novel written, in 45 minutes or otherwise.

So, over the next 45 minutes we writers had honest conversations with ourselves about:

Point of View. What are the pros and cons to using 1st person, 3rd person (God) or 3rd person close?

“First person can be a prison,” be mindful of your protagonist looking over the other characters’ shoulders, reading their emails or eavesdropping on them. If you choose to play God, you must be aware of your peripheral character’s ability to sustain interest. With third person close; “tone bleed” can break the spell and the reader realises, disconsolately that this is, after all just a story and the author is just telling it.

Plot and character. This brought Edward to the 1st optical stimulus of the evening – a simple graph with character and plot sitting at either end of the axis. “Understand where your novel sits on the graph,” he tells us.

Some novels are narrow on character and wide on plot and others are vice-versa. A writer shouldn’t be afraid to scrimp on one, say character, in order to expand on plot. The wrong mix and you may end up with a lumpy novel. Look for a mix that will reach your reader.

Design your cast. Very important, especially if you’re writing for TV or film, Edward advises us; “Whenever you get stuck, just go back to “Shakespeare” because he knows what he’s doing.”

Here, Edward fell back on “Hamlet” for help. And he produced the second visual stimulus – a spidergram. Hamlet with his many emotional dimensions is the body, the supporting cast, even the grave digger sitting on each leg, pulling each different personality out.

Make your characters sufficiently different such that they pull the protagonist apart, thus creating drama. Without this, the character becomes flat, uninteresting.

Totally inhabit your characters even the uncomfortable ones. The skill is, to write characters that we are not happy with!

“Jane Austen’s” writing did not only answer the obvious question, but the deeper one – can the protagonist not only choose her own man, but ultimately, her own destiny.

Consider the MDQ. The MDQ? Edward explains: the Major Dramatic Question, at least that is what they call it in Hollywood. There is no right or wrong way to approach the three-act structure of your novel, but one way that that seems to secure success is to insert the mdq early on in the first act. Ed himself, admits to trudging through an “impressive amount of turgic nonsense,” to get to the answer.

“Try to write on the tide of your talent – when its coming out of you, commit to it,” he says. “You can improve on bad writing – you cannot improve on none.”

50 drafts is what Edward docx writes. 50! The first few are big adaptations, then there is the grammar, the repetitions, the walk through with each character, then the ‘word’ draft and so on. So, here he imparts the advice that he was given – “The only draft that matters is the last draft.”

And always be courteous to your reader, your audience. A screenwriter is always asking, where are your audience now? Think of them as guests at a party. Will they want to stay and chat to you? Try not to confuse them.

Yes, Edward plans and plots, but not to such an extent as to curtail the creative process. If a character comes along that he wants to spend more time with, then he will do that. This may get cut in a later draft, but at the time, that hadn’t been planned.

As for technical support, Ed cannot praise Final Draft enough. His sister cannot praise Scrivener enough – he just hasn’t got to grips with it yet!

“Manage your time,” he says, “you must have tense hygiene!”

Report by Lisa Nightingale