Thursday, April 24, 2008

Novel 101 or Each Book Writes Itself Differently

For those of you who've noticed the new word-counter thingie down in the lower left margin, you'll see that I have begun writing Spinning. 3000+ words in.

And it's going well.

And I've always said ("always" being a term loosely applied since this is only book #3, or #4 if we're counting "the book that will never see the light of day"), each novel is its own adventure. Each one writes itself a bit differently. I'm a different author for each book--my experiences (both as a person and as a writer) have changed. So I can't expect the writing or the writing process to be the same.

Here are a few of the starkest changes--and they're good changes as far as I can tell:

~The First Chapter First. In the past, my process has been to get a completed draft done. Without a draft I don't have anything to polish, revise, work with. So, my goal was to get the story arc written, start meeting the characters I'd develop more fully in later rewrites, and not worry too much about anything else. For me, if I could get my first draft to 60,000 words I was in good shape. (My books tend to be in the 75,000 word range when completed.) But, this time around, I took some advice from other writers who've mentioned how much effort they put into that first chapter. And Julie, my very best reader/editor, talked to me last summer about how the first chapter should hint, in some way, about all that's to come. So, with that in mind, I spent most of this month working on Chapter One (and a two page prologue). I polished, I considered, I rewrote, I took my dog for long walks and thought about Jim and Maggie. And, if I say so myself, I think I nailed it. I might just be 15 pages in, but I established a solid base from which to go forward.

~Work From the Inside Out. I did this with All the Numbers. I did it, finally, with Kate in Unexpected Grace, but not soon enough to avoid major rewrites. (Yes, plural rewrites.). I know now to start with the heart. Of the story, of the characters, of the conflict. If it's not from the heart--the emotion, the pain or glory or loss or fear or hopes of the character, then it's just going to be about what happens next. Or what just happened. And nobody will care. It'll be moving your characters from one event to the next. It'll be an agenda.

You'd think I'd have known that as many times as I taught this. (Go ahead and click over. Read the whole thing, or better yet, listen to it. I'll wait.) And every time I taught it, my throat would catch. It's all so quotable. And right. Faulkner says, much more eloquently than I ever could, what I've just tried to say: that we need to write of "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat." I'm remembering his words this time around.

I'm just at the beginning stages of chapter two. So far, according to my only listener (my husband), I've tapped into the right vein. (Which is a challenge because for the first time I'm writing part of the story from a man's POV.)

It's a journey just begun. And I'm loving every step along the way.

p.s. I got my new wheels yesterday (see previous post). Whoo hoo!


Lisa said...

"...the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat."

I got hit (in a good way) with the double whammy this morning. I have been so stuck and unsure of how to move forward and after reading this post -- right after reading one at Candy Harris' blog about establishing a clear premise may have saved me.

It seems like the universe -- and sometimes the blogosphere -- always offer up answers to things I'm struggling with.

I'm so glad your new WIP is starting off so well. Thank you so much for this post!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Lisa, I'm so glad it was what you needed to hear! Faulkner can do that ; )!

I have found too many times for me to think it's just coincidence that what I need to get unstuck is just waiting out there in a blog or comment--and I love it.

Larramie said...

Guess you can't be accused of spinning your new wheels with the WIP, Judy. Enjoy both rides! ;)

Anonymous said...

Judy, I love this post. Thank you...

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Hey Kristen, So glad to have you here!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Thanks Larramie. I'm having a blast with both!

Carleen Brice said...

Good for you Judy! Write on!

Elizabeth said...

I have not yet spoken with other writers about the process. So I really enjoyed this post. I'm still new and green and standing with my hnds behind my back trying to soak it all in and then rush back home to apply what I've learned. So thanks for sharing I learned something.
~Elizabeth trying not to sound like a brown noser.

Daisy said...

I can't wait to read the finished product! Hearing about the process just makes reading even more rewarding.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Thanks, Carleen!

Hey, Elizabeth--so glad you chimed in--and that I was able to offer something you found helpful! Come back often.

Daisy, thanks!

Sustenance Scout said...

Judy, you're an inspiration! Enjoy, enjoy! Love the new ride, and yes I also can't wait to read the new book. K.

Sustenance Scout said...

...and then I realized I still haven't read All the Numbers. Off we go... K.