Novel Writing by Philip McCormac

Hinckley Scribblers, workshop 12 July 2019.

An example of successful writing is J K Rowling. If you wanna know how to write a novel THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE is a good example.

If you have a copy bring it along as well as writing materials.

Time permitting this is the programme:- 

Varying approaches to writing your novel.

Story lines.

Genre, which grabs you?

Research – how much or how little.

Character –who is out there?

Point of view – POV


If there are issues you would like tackled please post.




Example of a story with a beginning a middle and an ending with a twist:

‘Now then,’ said the major to the corporal newly appointed to his command, ‘I hear you’re a great gambler. Well, I don’t want any gambling in my camp. Is that understood?’

‘Yes sir,’ replied the corporal,’ but the thing is, sir, I can’t help myself. For instance, I bet you a week’s pay you’re wearing a string vest under your tunic at this moment.’

‘Right,’ said the major, ‘I’ll teach you a lesson, my lad.’

And he promptly stripped of his jacket shirt and tie, proving, without a shadow of a doubt that not only was he not wearing a string vest, but in fact was not wearing a vest at all.

‘Let that be a lesson to you,’ he said with a smile, as the corporal handed over his week’s pay.

That evening in the mess, the major was recounting to his story to his adjutant. The adjutant was horrified.

‘My God!’ he exclaimed. ‘When the corporal arrived in camp he was taking bets, that on his first meeting with you he would get you to strip to the waist.’


One fella advises, never use a word processor. Write everything in longhand.

Another tells you: Always use a word processor.

Still another: Write everything in the finest detail – then delete most of it.

One guy advises: Don’t bother plotting.

Another says; spend several months plotting before writing anything.

Another tells you to write it all out but, leave yourself the option to change all or bits of it.



Every book you pick up about writing will give you conflicting advice.

Conclusion: There are no fixed rules for writing a novel.

How do I do it?

There is a vague idea in my mind. It might be sparked off by something I’ve read or a play I’ve watched or a film or a novel or a story in the news.

One of my first stories published was constructed by putting together two separate incidents.

No 1 was a story in the Hinckley times. One night some kind of satanic rituals were carried out in the local church. This involved a dead cockerel and black candles and who knows what else.

The second incident was from my personal life. For years my sister had been promising to knit me an Aran sweater which never materialized. I constructed the story around these two unrelated events. It was called simply, ARAN SWEATER.

That is how stories can evolve. You have to be alert to the world around you.

Some journals tell you to always carry a notebook and be ready to jot down incidents and events and even descriptions of people and places as you journey around. It was something I tried to do but I must admit I was hopeless at such tasks. I just couldn’t remember to bring a notepad.

One piece of advice I was given was that if I wanted to improve my writing I should read a good newspaper. I mean read a proper newspaper not what are termed TABLOIDS.

The journalists are telling a story. They are experienced writers. They gotta grab your attention and you can learn a lot from that method. You will also learn from the different styles and articles within that paper. Reading newspapers seem to be on the decline. 

So how do I construct a novel?

There is a vague idea in my mind as to what I want to write. Here is how one book came about. It was a crime novel set in Belfast.

I lived and worked in Belfast for a time before migrating to England.

I read a news item about a prominent Northern Ireland solicitor who was murdered. It was a horrendous affair. Gunmen sledge-hammered his door one evening while he was having dinner with his wife and children. It was a sectarian murder.

He had been representing alleged members of terrorist organizations when they went to court. His argument was that everyone, no matter what crime they are accused of, is entitled to a lawyer. A minister stood up in Westminster and suggested if this same solicitor continues to do so he should be brought to justice. The underlying message was to the terrorists in the opposite camp; someone should stop this man permanently. As a result the solicitor is murdered. His murderers have never been brought to justice. Here is a story needs telling.

So I imagine he has a sister who is a journalist in London. She comes back to Belfast to bury her brother. After the funeral when she realizes the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) are not going to find his killers she hires a private detective called, Wolf Tone. I wrote TONE DEATH which was published as an EBook on Amazon.

So you see, all around you are ideas for stories.

My advice to would-be writers is to read. Read voraciously. Read inside and outside your genre. 

Yes, I have used Shakespeare. My first three or four books were based on the Henry plays. Then I went on to write –

Ayli Valley – As You Like It

Texas Rendezvous – Cymbeline.

Zacchaeus Wolfe – Titus Andronicus

Legend of Keane O’Leary – King Lear

After that I mostly made up my own plots.

Don’t be afraid of familiar story lines.

Do you realize that people have been telling and writing stories for thousands of years? There’s nothing original to be said. But you can tell the story it in your own voice in your own unique way. Put a new slant on an old story. What is what I did. I took Shakespeare’s plays and retold them with my own unique voice.

J.K Rowling wrote ‘HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE which was published in 1998.

It is the perfect example of how a successful novel is constructed. Below is a deconstruction of the main features that made this book a runaway success.

 “An orphaned boy is raised in the care of a powerless uncle, but watched over by an old wizard. When the boy reaches a certain age, the old wizard tells the boy about his true heritage and helps him develop his powers until he is able to avenge his father’s death.” 

That is the basic writing idea behind the stories of King Arthur, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Eragon, and many other novels and films. For example, change the word “powers” to “ballroom dancing skills” and you have the premise for the Australian film, Strictly Ballroom. Change it to “soup making talents” and you have the premise for the Japanese film, Tampopo. 

Similarly, Helen Fielding took this writing idea from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice … 

“A young woman wants to marry for love rather than money. But she discovers that, of her two suitors, the poor man she initially likes is a villain, while the rich man she initially hates is most worthy of her love.” 

… and reworked it into her original novel, Bridget Jones’ Diary. 

Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility likewise underlies the martial arts film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 


1: Fantasy

2: Sci-Fi

3: Mystery

4: Adventure

5: Romance

ACTIVITY : go in library/bookshop and pick up a book belonging to the genre you would most like to write. Read the blurb on the cover. That is a condensed plot. If you are struggling for ideas you have a million or more books out there to choose from.

Constructing Character 

Make sure your character is dependable.

Plays fair. (Not that they won’t break the rules, but they will have a strong moral code to keep them from crossing the line.)

Don’t see themselves as being better than others.

Help others for no personal gain.

Have a sense of humour.

Are courageous. (Not that they won’t show fear – in fact, it’s better if they do – but they must always overcome it.)

Are willing to make sacrifices for the wider good.

Have goals we can sympathise with.

Are level-headed.

Are smart – more in a street wise, common-sensical way than an intellectual one.

Are even-tempered.

Are kind and generous and compassionate to others.

Are the victims of an injustice.

Are uncomplaining.

Are volunteers – that is, they are willing to put themselves forward to do whatever needs to be done without being press-ganged into action.

Are cool under pressure.

It goes without saying that you don’t want all the characters in your novel to be likeable or loveable, particularly not the villains. These characters, you want to make dislikeable.

(And, yes, making a character dislikeable is still a way of making the reader care – they will simply care that the character gets what is coming to them.)