So. Novels. They kind of suck.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m very happy to attempt to write another, and grateful I finished one. (A very, very, very, awful draft of one, but hey there was an ending, right?)
So way back in ancient internet times (October) I wrote a post on strategies to keep moving on a novel focusing on plot. It came out of my own problems with a novel I was working on, and I thought it’d be fun to use a post and just explicate that problem.
As I wracked my brain for words to fill pages, my roommate Sara was an awesome influence. She encouraged me daily to write, often just asking, “did you write today?” Most days the answer would be a simple yes/no followed by either her praise or chastisement. One day, I answered:
“Yeah. I’m up to 50K words. And I just realized I have to trash it all.” *Bang head here*
Good people, I give you: The Process.
So it’s been a good six months since then, and I’ve finally pieced together the problems with that first incomplete draft. There was a lot, but they generally fell into two categories:
1) What I didn’t know:
- I didn’t know my 1st main character, her motivations, her inner dialogue, how she percieves herself and her world, etc. I didn’t even know her favorite color… Well, I knew her name 🙂
- I didn’t know the world the story took place in, it’s political and social structure(s), it’s history, the race/gender/class ratios, the geography, or its current politcal/social issues.
- I didn’t know the motivations of my 2nd main character (I knew more about her personally at least), she’s an old woman who has been dormant for years, so why now does she get active and seek out Main Character 1?
- I didn’t know the motivation of the antagonists (this has a lot to do with not knowing the world and it’s status quo) like, why the hell are they so mean and angry? And how the hell do they even know about MC1? And what information do they have to even give a crap about her?
To basically summarize issue group #1:
Well, now that #1 has been explicated, let me illustrate issue group #2: Imagine chugging away on a keyboard (or in my case, writing by hand in a notebook) and deciding one day arbitrarily, “hey I should read this through just to get a feel of the pacing” (or in other words, “how shall I procrastinate now?”).
2) The fact that in 50K words, nothing was happening:
Seriously. There’s about 30,000 words of a group of characters camping. And nothing happens (beside some stupid drama that has little to do with the overall plot). Part of this is my problem with outlining. I am an “outliner”, and a “re-outliner”, usually though this means that I have certain moments in mind, and I keep writing bleckh till I get there. My brain goes: Ok this character needs to die, but that one already fell off a cliff, is it too soon? I guess so. Well, I’ll just fill a few more pages and make time pass for this person to die.
Not a good strategy. It’s one thing to keep writing, it’s another thing to keep writing nothing. Outlining can be a crutch, and its good to recognize when you need to leave the plodding and free write for a while. It’s harder than it seems, trust me. More so if you were invested in the ideas before you started writing them (in the editing process, we call removing those parts “killing the baby”).
But for about 30-40K words, I would not, could not, kill the baby, and so I ended up writing a bunch of stuff I couldn’t save. And killing 50K words was so much harder than it would have been to just leave the outline and the preconceived ideas I had.
Sum up issue 2:
So, that’s my story. After working my butt off, I’m back to no words.
Now you are reading this and thinking, “Ok, what the hell was the point in all that?”
What I’m trying to say is, for any novelists out there, you are not alone. For any new ones, this is not a bad thing (it sucks, but it’s not bad). Be flexible. Let the process take you where it needs to.
Well, I have a happy ending to give you!
Realizing what my issues really were, I decided to analyze the characters I had. One character stuck out. She was so interesting, and I knew her so well. Yes I had an outline on her too, but it was very vague, which gave me room to explore. (Also, she lives in a BAMF world that I get to travel around with her!)
Now I’ve put that 50k mess on hold and started a different novel with a character I know very well, and a real plot with both outer and inner conflict! Hooray!
And writing a novel has gone back to being fun again. Faith restored.