Writing a Novel is A Precarious Journey
August 23, 2012
Writing a novel is a journey. It’s like taking a vacation into the great unknown. You have an embarkation point. You probably know where you are going. You seldom get there, and if you do, it’s a precarious and circuitous route. They say that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In a novel, there is no straight line. There are roadblocks along the way. You meet a lot of new characters on both sides of the tracks in towns big and small. Your journey slows down. You sit and visit with them for a while, and a few may even join you for the rest of the trip. They are the ones who make the entire journey entertaining and worth taking. There are starts and stops. There are times when ideas flow like fine wine in the hot shadows of a thirsty day. There are times when the ideas dry up like a Texas creek bed in August. Stephen Woodfin and Pattie Ball have made the journey. This is what they have to say about an excursion where the distance is measured in pages instead of mile markers.
Stephen Woodfin, author of the Revelation Trilogy, Last One Chosen, Next Best Hope, and The Revelation Effect: For me, I have a broad sense of where the story will go when I begin, but I don’t have any preconceived notions of how I will get there. If the theme is “they who live by the sword shall die by the sword,” that tells me a lot about how things have to develop and wind down.
If the theme is “love is the greatest power,” then I know that regardless of what happens to my hero, he will act so as to remain true to that theme. If he strays, he will come back to that benchmark. And, yes, the fun of writing for me is the process of discovery. I know when I start to write even one scene, I will find out something new, face an unexpected challenge, find a joke, or something. Anything. It never fails.
I read an interview of James Lee Burke about a year ago. He said that he starts each writing day with two scenes, and only two scenes, in mind. When he writes those, he starts the next day with two more scenes, and so forth until he reaches the end. I know if I have two scenes in mind, the next two will come along just in time.
This also raises the question for writers: When do they discover the logline? Do they write it down before they write the first word of the manuscript, or do they discover it in the process of the writing the book? When you find it is not as important as the fact that you finally have a grasp on it.
Pattie Ball, writing as Ann Everett is author of Laid Out and Candle Lit. Writing is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to conquer and get better at. Perhaps because it’s so personal. My words, from my noggin,’ telling a story only I can tell.
In my quest to improve, my process is now different. It’s much more structured. First, I make a list of all the jokes/gags I want to include in the story. Like I said, humor is my number one priority, so I like to get those down first. It can be an actual prank/event or simply some funny dialogue.
Next, since I’m writing a series, I add bios for all my new players, their physical descriptions, quirks, background, and anything else I think will be important about them. I’m always surprised when I forget the color of Bubba’s eyes or how I described Ridge’s physique and without those notes, I’d make mistakes. For my main recurring characters, I cast them. I choose actors, cut their pictures out, glue them in the notebook, and think of them when I write their scenes.
Then I loosely outline the book. I say loosely, because I change and adjust as I go along. If you’re a writer, you know sometimes the characters take you to a whole different place than where you thought you were headed! One major lesson I learned from the first book was to introduce LOTS of secondary characters. They don’t have to play major roles, but if you’re going to have a bad guy, you need several to choose from. I don’t usually decide who the culprit will be until close to the end of the story and generally go back and forth between a couple of characters before the final decision is made.
After all this, I begin to write. As I do, I post my work, one chapter at a time, on a writing website for critique. This is the number one thing I suggest for writers. Join a critique site. There are many to choose from. I use TheNextBigWriter.com, but there’s also FanStory, CritiqueCircle and others.
Normally with first chapters, you may get as many as forty readers! Yep, that’s forty people, from a cross section of the U.S and other countries, all ages, both genders, and all walks of life. Some will be great with grammar and punctuation; others excel at logic, pace, factual content, etc. Bottom line is they will let you know if what you’ve written is working or not.
After the first chapter, you’re readers fall off, but I was fortunate to have 16 people read both novels from beginning to end and offer invaluable insight! My readers were about 50/50 split between men and women. They were from Washington, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, New York, England, Germany, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, Missouri, New Mexico, and more. They ranged in age from 26 to retirees. They were school teachers, surgeons, business men, students, two ex-cons, a dog trainer, retired military, just to name a few.
I find strangers are more willing to be brutally honest with you…always in a nice way, about if what you’ve written stinks or not!! And believe me, I’ve written some really smelly stuff!
I don’t have a set writing schedule. I write best early in the morning, because I’m an early riser. I don’t write every day, simply because my schedule doesn’t permit it. I write in total silence. I listen to music for motivation, but don’t play it when I’m writing.