Writing a novel is like taking a road trip.
April 13, 2014
So here is the quandary you think you have.
You want to write a novel, but you’re staring hard at the prospect of writing 75,000 to 100,000 words. You’re looking at three hundred to four hundred pages any way you cut it. The journey seems so far away that it’s sometimes difficult to even begin.
Well, I have a better way to approach it. Not long ago, I drove from East Texas to Birmingham, Alabama, for a meeting. That is a journey across parts of four states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. It sounds daunting. It’s not really.
You see, I didn’t drive from East Texas to Birmingham. That’s stretching a lifetime down both sides of the interstate.
I drove from Tyler to Shreveport. Then I drove from Shreveport to Monroe. Then I drove from Monroe to Vicksburg. And that’s the way the trip went. I didn’t look at the final destination hundreds miles down the road. I made a bunch of nice, short, little trips and enjoyed every mile of the ride.
That’s the way it is when you write a novel. The thought of arranging those 75,000 words into a book may sound daunting, too. But don’t worry about getting to the end. Just enjoy each chapter as its own little individual story within a story. Spend some time with your characters. Follow them wherever they want to go, and listen to their conversations.
A novel is nothing more than a fictional life you create and build.
And it’s no different from real life.
Our existence, when we really look hard at the roads we’ve taken, the crossroads we’ve missed, the people we’ve known, and the experiences we’ve endured, is never really a grand, sweeping epic of biblical proportions.
Life is simply a series of short stories piled one on top of the other. Full of pathos. Full of humor. Full of drama. A little love. A little sorrow. A little anger. Occasional suspense. Always a mystery, usually fraught with a secret or two, and frightening at times.
The plots, both good and bad, change from day to day. And only a few characters remain from the first breath to the last.
But the short stories are pieced together like colorful squares in a patchwork quilt, some torn, some frayed, some able to withstand any of the trials that ill winds blow your way.
So it is with a novel.
When you write a book, don’t worry about how grand or how sweeping the epic will be. Concentrate instead on crafting a myriad of individual short stories that makes a novel either memorable or quickly forgotten and probably unread.
Each chapter is a short story.
Each scene is a short story.
Each passage of dialog is a short story.
And all of them should have a beginning and ending. All have a touch of conflict or tension, even if it only deals with the inner struggles of the characters.
Follow the short stories piled one on top of the other. And one morning, you’ll wake up and see the end in sight, and you will wonder how you got there so quickly, and you’ll feel a little sad because you’ve arrived.