Writing A Novel

Thoughts about writing a novel from someone who's written three, had one published by a traditional publisher. Tips, techniques & theories. Not a publishing industry watchdog blog, but an introspective look at what it takes to create a manuscript a publisher might actually want to publish. No hard and fast rules, no "definitive" right ways and wrong ways, just a collection of loosely connected entries about what worked for me- and what failed miserably. Join the fun.

Location: Illinois, United States

First novel published by Mundania Press: http://www.mundania.com

Friday, April 08, 2005

That D.O.A. second novel

My award-winning published novel:


On Amazon.com:


My second novel was written with the cold calculation of a banker tallying the day’s deposits- with serious purpose, but little emotion other than a tinge of hidden greed. I went through great lengths to make sure the plot was sound and solid, with no voids or structural defects. The characters were similarly drawn, their strengths and flaws well matched to what the plot demanded of them. Every chapter carefully carried its own weight, each one spanning the plot foundation in precise, measured fashion so the structure wouldn’t sag. And in my desire to avoid the ridiculous length of my first novel, I deliberately set a 60,000 word target with all the zeal of a missionary who’s convinced he knows how many souls he has to save to ensure heaven for himself. This novel (I was hoping) would hit it big, thanks to my meticulous preparation.

It all came to nothing.

Perhaps I secretly knew that could be the only result. My characters didn’t flinch, didn’t say a single unnecessary word, didn’t do anything out of character ever or have even one original thought. I wouldn’t allow it. I was guilty of character abuse in the third degree, providing them with just enough air to speak but not enough to breathe. They were convincing automatons, but not people- certainly not ones you would care to care about. Instead of flesh, there was wax; instead of souls, there were springs. And so they smoothly went through their mechanical motions in my mechanical plot, never doing anything wrong in a way that would worry you eventually if you were a parent: damn it, show some resentment, will you? You’re scaring me. Free yourselves from my tyranny!

So what did I learn from this year-long writing exercise? Well, limits, for one thing. There are limits on how controlling you can be towards your characters. They do not respond well to overwhelming external forces; they become compliant in a way real people don’t, spirits crushed and souls drained. What I learned to cherish are those moments when characters bark back at marching orders that are at odds with who they’ve become, fists displayed instead of salutes. Those can be warning signs- ones I ignored in my first novel- but they can also be the first signs of life, a time when you should leap up from your desk chair and cry Eureka! because you just struck gold, my friend. Too much of that, of course, and kiss goodbye your best-laid plans; your characters are going places you probably don’t want to visit, as I discovered when I gave the characters in my first novel free reign and they took things to extremes. Hijacked, and I was to blame.

Your characters must be allowed to suggest some elements of your story, steer the ship once in awhile or they’ll never come alive. Try to wind your story too tight around them, and you’ll have what looks and sounds like genuine characters, but are really just hollow puppets for your plot, soulless beings going through the motions to satisfy their cruel creator. And your book will suffer for the restraint, with opportunities lost and the cart (no matter how brilliantly designed) before the more-important horse.

Creating characters is a balancing act you have to master, one that takes a firm hand against outright mutiny while remaining open to reasonable suggestions your characters might have. A well-crafted story is essential, of course, but characters- it turns out- not only count, they count the most.

Next up: An Audience for Einstein: the early days


Blogger Dea said...

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I hope you stop by and register, check us out.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

You've got some brave insights here, the kind that can only be chalked up to experience, or perhaps, to learning 'the hard way'.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Shakma said...

I 2nd what jay said..
Especially the mentioning of the act needed to get good characters.

This might sound dumb, because it's a totally different field (is it ?) but I always look toward the character buildup they use in Final Fantasy (the games). Somehow, someway these guys manage to get you hooked up with the characters in the game, the way you do with only a handful of good movies and books. And more, somehow, someway (;-) they manage to do that in every game !

I'm not a writer, but I'm interested especially in character building and I always take on Final Fantasy characters as a sort of 'example of how it's done'.

Just my 2 cents ?

Keep going, you're going to get it.
Don't forget also (imo), that books are very time-dependent. Again, this is a personal view. I take for example, DaVinci code. If that were published, say, 5 years ago ? I wonder if it would be the bestseller it is today...

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope for the Hopeless Writer?

As the editor of Authorlink.com, I often see writers become devastated by publishers’ rejections. So, I want to offer a little hope for the hopeless. When I interview New York Times bestselling authors they frequently tell me how many times they have been rejected, and I am always amazed. Most of us believe that those who have made it to the big-time had an easy road.

Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult told me that “a great deal of being a successful writer is in believing in yourself in the face of repeated rejection.” She has been there. Lisa Scottoline, another Times bestselling author, said she went through five years of rejections before becoming published. Bestselling author John Connolly told me he received 70 or 80 agency rejections before being published. Joan Medlicott, author of the famous Covington Series, was rejected 24 times before breaking through. And then there are Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield, co-creators of the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series, who were rejected by eight major publishers, and 22 smaller publishers. Their 75 titles have sold more than 80 million copies in 39 languages.

All of these writers agree that perseverance is the key to becoming published. I know! The all-new Authorlink.com, the place where editors, agents and writers get connected, has facilitated more deals for writers than almost any other similar site. So to those of you trying to break into publishing, I say, never, never, never give up! It’s possible to become published! I’d love to hear from you about your own trials and successes.—Doris Booth, Dbooth@authorlink.com.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Pardes said...

How delightful to find your blog! Also, I was even more delighted to find an ebook version of your novel, "An Audience for Einstein." I just whipped out my Nook and downloaded it because I'm approaching the end of reading, "The Age of Innocence," and was already mourning the fact that I didn't have anything "really good and captivating" to read next.
Hopefully that is no longer true. :) I'll be sure and report back to you.
I enjoy your blog (just discovered today) and wished that you had a rss link in order to add it to Google Reader. I'll try adding it manually.
Thanks for your great comments on the writing process. As a writer myself, it was informative, sometimes amusing, and always entertaining.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

I really enjoy your posts.They're full of very useful insights. I think each writer should trust their own instincts and just write but listen to good advice.


11:09 AM  
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