Writing a novel. How do I construct a narrative?

Writing a novel. How do I construct a narrative? It's primarily about the psychology and development of a single character with no friends or purpose. I have written about 150 pages of episodes about how he lived, how he was inspired to change, and where he ended up -- not some 'now he has friends and everything is better' outcome, but still inspirational in a sense.
However, I feel like I don't have enough written that shows his life at each point, and instead, much of it is focused on the inflection points -- which I realize will be in many ways the most interesting parts, but I feel they feel too sudden and don't have enough gravitas without the reader getting invested in each phase.
How do I fill out the 'slower' sections when the character has no hobbies or meaningful connection with other humans? I've tried putting in more philosophical passages about the character's thoughts/feelings/etc but it's difficult without feeling expository or heavyhanded and also the novel is in the 3rd person (necessary for the style I'm going for, I've tried translating it to 1st person and the text loses the humor and vibe I've spent almost two years cultivating and has been positively received by my test readers).
pic related, I'm sort of going for a similar type of thing in essence, although with a very different style and obviously much longer. in terms of style, I'd say it comes across somewhat similar to vonnegut but not intentionally and I don't think feels derivative.

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  1. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    by 'construct a narrative', I guess I mean, turn the wikipedia-length summary of the novel into a 300-ish page thing.

  2. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    and I do read a lot, mostly classics, and try to think about what those novels do to take up 500 pages rather than just 50 pages. I think my problem is that my writing style is overall more brief, which works well for something like Blood Meridian where so much happens that even a brief description of each thing results in a 300 page novel, but the amount of stuff that happens in my novel (as of right now, at least) is more like in Moby Dick (which has a large amount of prose relative to the number of scenes/events). So my solutions seem to be either to be more verbose in describing the same amount of events I currently have, or to have more events, but I struggle with either.

    • 5 months ago
      Anonymous

      just make it a short novel then

      • 5 months ago
        Anonymous

        >but I feel they feel too sudden and don't have enough gravitas without the reader getting invested in each phase.
        it's not that I want the book to be longer just to be longer. it's that it feels rushed when I read it.

    • 5 months ago
      Anonymous

      Many long books are long because they involve many characters and thus require many words to go over all the perspectives and, in the same way, there are many more scenes that need to be written.
      Comparing it to Notes from Underground, you will notice that book is not long either (shorter already than what you have written), and even that spends the first half of it as a philosophical treatise as opposed to a narrative. The Stranger also focuses on a person who cannot connect with others, and is similarly short.
      Your problem boils down to "what do I write about?" and that is always the question you need to figure out for yourself. Personally, I disagree with the premise that he really has no one. Everyone, at least, has had someone at some point, and would write something more from their perspective, or try to construe a situation where the loner is forced to admit they are scared. If they are dead, then throw in a flashback or something. I assume he cries at night.

  3. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    my thoughts would be to flesh out the story by fleshing out the character himself with minor details assuming you havnt already. have some passages describing his more benign mannerisms and thoughts as he goes about an average day and engages in more normal stuff. does he have any slight quirks that are just barely notable? does he sing in the shower, or sweep the floor in a strangely neurotic way, or have certain thoughts about day to day actions? maybe even some small quirks and mannerisms that reflect the greater narrative of his life ?

    • 5 months ago
      Anonymous

      this is helpful. I'd say a lot of what I've written so far is this sort of stuff (lots of little details, scenes, and interactions with strangers meant to illustrate some aspect of his personality) but looking at the thing as a whole, probably part of why the book feels rushed is that I still don't have enough to fully flesh out his character. It's hard to identify how well I've depicted the experience, because I'm largely hoping to encapsulate my own (past) experience as an alcoholic — I'm so familiar with that life that the picture is clear in my head, but I am certain after reading your comment and thinking more about it that I have not successfully conveyed it in the next so far.
      it's not a 'woe is me, life is so sad' romanticized kind of thing, but rather a 'quirky', happy-go-lucky, reasonably likeable guy who is watching his life go by without really living it. Lots of humorous/silly/fun little things that paint not such a dismal picture, but collectively his life is a mess. I have a doc on my phone I add to any time I remember something mildly interesting about my experience (or, that I just made up but are consistent with the picture I'm trying to paint) with something like 500 one-liners and short notes that have yet to be incorporated into the novel. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      on a related but separate note, do you have any advice on how to avoid being trite or heavy handed with the character development? I want to avoid it coming across as sappy or a morality tale, but at the same time, I don't want it to be a story of going from bad to worse. it seems like it's easier to make a meaningful / impactful story when it's depressing, but also I think there's a dearth of well-written novels with happy/optimistic endings. it's also not being 'honest' in a sense for me to write a sad ending to a semi-autobiographical story, because that's not the ending I got. Not that I got a happily ever after, exactly—I lost the love of my life (which is the climax of the novel)—but I did get sober and am happier than I've ever been in my entire life. I'm trying to follow roughly a five act structure, so losing her is in the middle, then the second half of the novel is about coming to terms with that and achieving a sort of bittersweet peace. I just want the second half to feel honest not contrived and I'm worried I'm failing a bit at that part.

      • 5 months ago
        Anonymous

        well im happy to hear you are doing better and and happy to help

        I have no idea if can say anything really helpful or not already completely obvious to you, but it sounds to me like you could try and focus on a more reserved, meditative and reflective and borderline melancholic tone in your final stretch, rather than an enthusiastically positive thing

        like, instead of a a very lucid "holy shit i overcame my trials, time to celebrate" type feel, you have an exhausted and quiet, almost disoriented reflection on the past that is that is still ultimately positive, and satisfaction has been found, and theres a feeling of "damn that happened, but now its over and im happy thats over", but there is still just a very strong feeling of tiredness, even of being scarred from the journey. a positive outlook for the future that is still marred with some melancholic reflections on what was lost along the way, almost a slight sense of nostalgia even. if any of this makes sense lol

        i dont know if this is ringing any bells regarding your own experience, but if it sounds like feelings you felt in the past regarding your own journey, then definitely channel them

  4. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    You don't construct a narrative. Narratives construct themselves. You take your character and put in him in a setting, and you write the characters perceptions and opinions of the setting, and the story starts moving on its own.

    • 5 months ago
      Anonymous

      that's one way to write a story. that's also why George RR Martin hasn't finished his story. it's also not really what's happening — you're still constructing the narrative, just subconsciously.

      • 5 months ago
        Anonymous

        GRRM made different timelines where characters are months away from each other in he timeline and he doesn't know how to fix it other than "these characters sat on their asses for 6 months" to bring them up to speed with other plots

        • 5 months ago
          Anonymous

          that's not george's problem, that's an excuse he's made. it definitely didn't help, but if he'd not had a time skip, he'd still be in the same predicament he's currently in.

      • 5 months ago
        Anonymous

        >that's also why George RR Martin hasn't finished his story
        His problem is the exact opposite of that. It's more like the problem OP is having.

  5. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    What's the conflict?

    • 5 months ago
      Anonymous

      primarily man vs self. some man vs man and man vs society as well.

      • 5 months ago
        Anonymous

        You need something a little more concrete than that. What is his main obstacle in life? Is it his lack of direction, his lack of girlfriend, his lack of fulfillment? And what does he do to try to fix it? If he doesnt try to fix it, why not? 300 pages of self loathing gets old if it has no direction.

        • 5 months ago
          Anonymous

          I've written 150 pages, I have a quite fleshed out story, it just feels rushed in parts at the moment. You could have figured that out by reading my other posts in this thread

          well im happy to hear you are doing better and and happy to help

          I have no idea if can say anything really helpful or not already completely obvious to you, but it sounds to me like you could try and focus on a more reserved, meditative and reflective and borderline melancholic tone in your final stretch, rather than an enthusiastically positive thing

          like, instead of a a very lucid "holy shit i overcame my trials, time to celebrate" type feel, you have an exhausted and quiet, almost disoriented reflection on the past that is that is still ultimately positive, and satisfaction has been found, and theres a feeling of "damn that happened, but now its over and im happy thats over", but there is still just a very strong feeling of tiredness, even of being scarred from the journey. a positive outlook for the future that is still marred with some melancholic reflections on what was lost along the way, almost a slight sense of nostalgia even. if any of this makes sense lol

          i dont know if this is ringing any bells regarding your own experience, but if it sounds like feelings you felt in the past regarding your own journey, then definitely channel them

          thank you, that's helpful. that's sort of what I've been doing but you formulated it in a clearer way than I had, I think will help with filling in and reworking parts of it

          • 5 months ago
            Anonymous

            You need something a little more concrete than that. What is his main obstacle in life? Is it his lack of direction, his lack of girlfriend, his lack of fulfillment? And what does he do to try to fix it? If he doesnt try to fix it, why not? 300 pages of self loathing gets old if it has no direction.

            there's also no self-loathing, that's pretty close to the opposite of what the story is.

  6. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    >write a novel
    >have nothing to write about
    This is your fundamental problem.
    Drop the whole idea, and reconsider it in twenty years.

    • 5 months ago
      Anonymous

      weird projection but ok

      >I have written about 150 pages
      Already longer than Notes From Underground. Does it feel "complete" to you? If so then don't worry about bulking it up to 300 pages

      the story does, but it feels like too much happens too fast without giving the reader time to process it.

      Many long books are long because they involve many characters and thus require many words to go over all the perspectives and, in the same way, there are many more scenes that need to be written.
      Comparing it to Notes from Underground, you will notice that book is not long either (shorter already than what you have written), and even that spends the first half of it as a philosophical treatise as opposed to a narrative. The Stranger also focuses on a person who cannot connect with others, and is similarly short.
      Your problem boils down to "what do I write about?" and that is always the question you need to figure out for yourself. Personally, I disagree with the premise that he really has no one. Everyone, at least, has had someone at some point, and would write something more from their perspective, or try to construe a situation where the loner is forced to admit they are scared. If they are dead, then throw in a flashback or something. I assume he cries at night.

      thank you, this is helpful. especially the reference to the stranger — notes from underground is short, especially the narrative part, but also not much happens. but a good amount happens in the stranger, and that's still very short. possibly my story feels too rushed to me because I'm so familiar with what I've written — I may ask a friend or two to read the first half blind and see how the pacing feels to them and whether the narrative or prose needs to be expanded to slow things down or whether it's ok as is.

      • 5 months ago
        Anonymous

        >too much happens too fast without giving the reader time to process it

        what's the current structure of the novel? Do you have a preface, an introduction?

        If not and you've jumped right into the main narrative, you could write a preface/introduction that sets up motifs throughout the novel. That could help the reader feel the story is moving as it should, and things aren't being introduced with little provision.

        • 5 months ago
          Anonymous

          I'm trying to structure like a five act play - exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. I think the exposition, the climax, and the resolution are all decent so far — not complete, but I'm making good progress.
          It's the rising action and falling action that are rushed and as a result, the climax (losing the girl) and resolution (coming to terms with the loss and finding a bittersweet peace) feel less impactful than they would if the rising/falling action were more stretched out. A lot of the rising action is flashbacks to earlier points in the relationship, but I'm not sure I'm making the relationship feel significant enough to make the reader feel the pain of it falling apart, and the falling action I'm having trouble not making overly prescriptive/preachy or coming 'too easy' for the protagonist.

          to add a bit more detail that may help explain, it's not that they had a good, normal relationship that he messed up due to alcoholism or other character flaws, but rather that they had an on again, off again thing for many years, where she'd just disappear and reappear into his life at odd intervals, and he spent that time idealizing her and believing that if they could finally be together, they'd be happy. then, that's exactly what happens — she's ready to commit to him and things are going well, but when he finally gets everything he ever wanted, he's unsatisfied, so he sabotages the entire thing and she disappears again, this time permanently. but he immediately regrets it and now with her gone, he begins to believe again that she and that relationship were the key to fixing his life, and he'd just had a moment of confusion. the falling action is about him realizing that he was placing all his hopes of happiness in something 'unattainable', which was convenient because it was unattainable and thus his belief was unfalsifiable, so he could believe his lack of fulfillment / meaning was due to external circumstance rather than internal problems. but when the unlikely happens and it actually works out, he's forced to confront reality, thus opening up the possibility of change.
          in the end, he's making strides in achieving true contentedness alone while coming to terms with the fact that although a relationship was never going to fix all his problems, he still permanently lost a wonderful person because she was just a person rather than his savior from a meaningless existence, that there was something broken in him that no one but he could fix.

          I hadn't thought of a preface/intro, do you have any recs on novels that do roughly what you're describing that I could look into to see whether I think it would fit?

          • 5 months ago
            Anonymous

            I couldn't give specific recs to be honest.

            But from what you've said about the five act structure, it seems the majority of the conflict in the narrative revolves around the relationship between the protagonist and this girl. I know you said your writing style tends to be quite brief; stories that revolve around abstractions or relationships as opposed to perceptible events tend to not work in the favor of a brief writing style in my experience.

            I can only recommend that you write more descriptively and be self-indulgent when narrating the characters feelings and thoughts. From the beginning to the end of the relationship, make the protagonist introspect and really flesh out his sensibilities.

          • 5 months ago
            Anonymous

            haha well sounds like we've hit the heart of the problem here, then, as I'm trying to use sort of understated, positive-on-the-surface way of conveying the protag's feelings (with his more negative feelings inferred via his actions and subtleties of his interactions with others), but I think I can be more self-indulgent intermittently while still achieving that. there is a good amount of dialogue, too, but it's primarily with side characters with whom the protag doesn't have much conflict.
            maybe what I'm aiming for is just an inherent contradiction, but I think your feedback (along with others in this thread) has helped a fair amount. thank you for taking the time to help

  7. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    >I have written about 150 pages
    Already longer than Notes From Underground. Does it feel "complete" to you? If so then don't worry about bulking it up to 300 pages

  8. 5 months ago
    Anonymous

    Hard to give advice without seeing a page or two worth of a sample.

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