Writing is Easy, but Writing a Novel…

I’ve had my writing voice for many years. I don’t know why it evolved the way it did, but it is easy for me to express my thoughts with this style. I write very fast most of the time and that means I have to go back and do a lot of self-editing. I sling sentences around until I’m okay with the way they sound in my head. It’s comfortable for me and this voice is why I write in first person, present tense.

Blogging and other forms of writing are relatively easy for me because there’s not much at stake, but writing a novel is another matter. I had thought that after over a decade of conceptualization and research, this novel would be relatively simple to write. And the first draft was relatively easy, although looking back at previous posts it looks like I was struggling even then.

But I’ve been learning much more about this novel, this story, as I dig deeper into it. The characters are becoming more complex, even the ones I already knew would be complex. There are hundreds of threads that must be reconnected at different points along the way. If I knew in the beginning what I know now I’d have built my outline around the threads. It’s something I’ll do in the follow-on book or books. There’s also the subtleties of first person writing.

I’ve read that 90% of all science fiction novels are written in third person, but I’ve also noticed that there are more first person sci-fi novels in the past decade. Well, that’s subjective. I don’t have any research on this and don’t particularly care because I’m sticking with “the horse that brung me”, first person.

Something Must Be Wrong

My editors have noted something in my writing that concerns me. All of them (four editors) seem to point this out; that is, I will say something that I don’t explain in more detail immediately. For example, I might say “It was the system controlling the [unique mechanism] surrounding the transport ships.” And editors might want to know what the ‘mechanism’ is or what it does, or words to that effect. In my mind it is a simple question that suggests a complex system, it’s a curiosity, but doesn’t have to be answered for the story to work. It’s not intended to raise suspense in the story. I will explain the term later in the story because I feel it require further explanation, but I’m speaking in real-time, present tense. If I stop to explain it, I’ll be writing a lengthy descriptions or back story narrative.

Are These Ideas Right or Wrong?

So what’s wrong with lengthy descriptions? I think it works okay for third person writing, where things are being explained in a more traditional narrative. But you are walking into my story and there’s a lot you’ll not know about the scenes because it is a complex plot. I’ve chosen to leave out details like what a ‘unique mechanism’ is because there are much more important things to reveal. My notion is that by adding to the ‘mechanism’ description later it will hit the reader as an, “Ah, I was wondering about that.”

There are two other reasons I don’t feel I can go into explanations, aside from “Show don’t Tell”. First, I have friends who are avid sci-fi readers and both of them dislike a lot of explaining or back story at the beginning of a story. In one case, the reader feels the same way about third person. The second reason deals with my changing view of stories; that is, I see my stories as if they are motion pictures or television series. For example, you can be dropped in a scene and the only thing you have is a couple of people talking about this or that, but you don’t have a clue as to what’s going on.

I write from the perspective of a movie. The problem is, when you see a story on-screen you can draw a lot of conclusions about place and characters from what you observe. This is where the editors are dead-on right, you have to describe the scene or the reader will be lost and confused. And I’m ready to acknowledge that I must be coming up lite on these descriptions, but I’m also convinced that my editors see my writing through the lens of third person. One editor went as far as to suggest that I don’t attempt to write in first person because it is very hard. Hmmm.

The Story of Max Perkins

Last night I watched a magnificent HBO movie, “Genius”. It’s a story of Scribner’s Sons editor, Max Perkins, editor to Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a young Thomas Wolfe. If you enjoy the writing of that era, it will enrich your understanding. Basically, Max Perkins helps Tom Wolfe reduced the size of a giant manuscript (330,000 words) entitled O Lost into the highly successful Look Homeward, Angel. In my mind Perkins took a wildly undisciplined and self-centered young genius and helped him realize his potential.

For his second book, the film depicted Tom Wolfe bringing in three crates of writings, representing hundreds of thousands of words. It was everything I’ve read that you should not do if you want to get published. But Perkins believed in Wolfe’s genius and spent the next two years intensely helping Wolfe create his second novel, Of Time and the River, another great success. But there was an undercurrent in the story, Perkins wondered if all his editing might have destroyed the true value of Wolfe’s work.

Not mentioned in the film was the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Matthew Bruccoli, who reassembled the original manuscript for O Lost. It was finally published in 2000 because Bruccoli believed the Perkins’ editing resulted in an inferior work. I tend to believe that Thomas Wolfe was lucky to have been mentored by Max Perkins. I don’t have to read the original to be certain that the Perkins edited work was the true masterpiece. One reviewer of Wolfe’s first work said, “…the product of an immense exuberance, organic in its form, kinetic, and drenched with the love of life…” The book must have been a great event at the time and while I can appreciate Wolfe’s poetic genius, I’m inclined to feel “drenched” in Wolfe’s lack of discipline and self-indulgence. I know, I know. I’ve committed a sacrilege and I apologize to those with a better understanding of literary genius. Let me reiterate, Wolfe was damned lucky to have been mentored by Max Perkins.

Moving Forward

One thing the HBO film has done, it has increased my sense that I must write the way I know how. However, I’m very mindful of what I’ve learned from my editors. Btw, I think I’m lucky to have done some early work with different editors.

Writing a novel is hard, for me that is. Some popular authors can create new books like clockwork, and maybe I’ll be there some day. But for now it is very hard work.

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Stalled at 52,000 Words

I got a manuscript evaluation from my editor and it was very insightful. One of her valuable observation was that I should divide the novel into two parts. I’d done this before but pulled the divisions out because I just wasn’t sure it is the way to go. Now I’m sure. An objective point of view can really help. Also, I’m making notes for the final draft, but I’m finding myself stalled out with only five more chapters to write.

I’m twelve chapters and 52,000 words into this novel. I really want to complete the remaining five chapters–about 20,000 words–but the really irritating thing is, I’ve written these chapters before in the first draft. And the basic plan and ideas are the same. But I’m blocked again. I’m pretty sure that the holiday ‘thing’ has slowed me down, so I’m not beating myself up too badly. I just wish I could breakout and race to the ending.

In the meantime, I’ve been creating two maps, one to be included on Part One and the other in the middle of the book at Part Two. The maps were also something I’d been thinking about, but my editor and I discussed it and now I’m more confident of the necessity.

I’m also working on a cover design, although I don’t have the artistic talent to make my ideas come to life. And then there’s the novel synopsis. The synopsis is something I really hate because I don’t see how they can explain the complexities of a novel, not to mention the emotions. Nonetheless, agents seem to thrive on having a synopsis, so I’m learning how to do this, but mainly I’m just reinforcing my hatred for writing a synopsis.

The final chapters requires that I improve my knowledge of several historic characters. Maybe this is part of my dilemma also. Oh well… on with the show.

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46,000 Words to Editor

I decided that it’s time to send the manuscript to my editor. It’s not complete, only 46,000 words, but I’m ready for the next wave of edits.

I’ve been looking for a good editor that I can truly work with. I learned a lot from my first editors, but I’m ready for an editor with more experience. I’ve worked with magazine editors in the past, so I’m used to the ebb and flow of the process. But this is a novel and the challenges are more advanced.

The main issue I have with many editors is that they underestimate you. They revert to trying to mold you into what they think you should be. I’m seeking an editor who will try to understand who I am, then help bring out the best I can create. I’m looking for a coach who sees my potential, rather than someone who endeavors to train to be like themselves. This may sound simple but my experience tells me its not common.

While the editors do their thing, I’m back to trying to finish the remaining chapters.

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Lost Without Microsoft OneNote

Here’s another example of how I used Microsoft’s OneNote (no, Microsoft, I still haven’t upgraded) to maintain my massive store of notes, photos and files. I’m pretty sure that OneNote or something like it is really indispensable for modern writing; well, that is if there are many characters, many settings and a complex plot. The story though, I’m certain that’s all about the ability to write. Anyway, this is one of my lead characters and a guy I’m massively attracted to but unfortunately he’s just a face I saw in a group of guys once. Note to the guy in the pic: phone number please. Okay… joking, sorta. Heh.

characters-redacted

This is a summary tab of the Character Section of my novel. For more details I use the right hand menu of notebooks.

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2012-2016 And Still Working

I’ve had a sort of externally inflicted and on-again, off-again writer’s block over the past year. Nonetheless, I’m still at work on this novel.

Half of the novel is complete; about 35,000 words. The second part is substantially different than the first because I’ve had time to consider the complexities of the story. In fact, I’ve pulled over 20,000 words because those chapters didn’t really move the story forward. Doing this was a painful process but it led me realize how much crap I had written. In fact, I have no idea if this entire novel is just a piece of crap. But the thing is, it’s a story I want to tell. And I’ll find a way to do that despite the possibility that no one will find it interesting.

My goal is to complete the remaining chapters within the next three months.

 

 

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Outlining

I’ve avoided outlining my story from the very beginning. In the very, very beginning I wanted to write the story something like Jack Kerouac’s first draft of On the Road. Basically he did a mind dump with a typewriter and one of those old paper rolls. I think they were used in teletype machines. Heh. Like that, just sit down and dump out this book I’ve spent so much time researching and developing.

NaNoWriMo Was Helpful

Reluctantly I used the NaNoWriMo most basic suggestion, I wrote three acts. Then I wrote the chapter narratives. I was pleased with myself when I finished. I felt it was worth the effort and proceeded to write my first draft. I especially liked those three acts, they made good sections of the novel. And then I discovered that I’d shot gunned all kind of crap in every nook and cranny of the manuscript.

Throwing Stuff Away, Over and Over

So I tried to reel in all the crap in the second draft, but I felt I needed to take the three parts down to two. Then got some editorial help and further reeled this thing in. Then this led to that and I’ve been re-writing the first chapter for the past two months. Yes, two months and I got no where.

Sometime in the last month I decided I’d be better off if I could put my chapter descriptions into outline form. This is a year and half since writing my “Epic Chapter” post.  The other thing is, I’ve come to realize that instead of that original three parts, I’m now down to three novels. That’s not so depressing because I’ve come to realize that the first novel is really backstory for the story I really want to write.

Huh? What?

In many ways, the first novel will be a kind of throwaway. It will be an interesting story I think or hope. But the truth is I could simply proceed to the second book without writing book one. I could develop the characters from scratch in book two, but there’s a lot that I think there’s a lot of good stuff that will reveal itself in the telling of the first tale. And for this reason I’m determined to simply press forward and write and publish book one.

Then There’s This…

I never wanted to be a writer. What? Well, okay, I did want to be a writer when I was in high school–there’s that. But this project has never been about becoming a writer or “an author” or being a writer becoming famous or any of that. This project has always been about telling a story that just began to create itself inside my head, my mind. And despite the fact that my mind is an awful place for anything to get created, it got created. I mean, I’m a Gemini and there’s a lot going on inside my mind. Anyway, the characters and plot got created. It’s still getting created too. That’s that too. And somewhere along the way all those elements revealed a story–an actual story. Each time I find myself writing I wish I had greater writing skills. But I can’t let this bother me anymore, it’s time to finish telling the first part of this epic tale.

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Perfectionism

When I began this novel I plunged in with my usual carefree swagger. Once I finished the first draft I began to realize how awful it was.

So I plunged into the second draft with reckless abandon, and before I finished I realized it was even worse!

Now, working on the third draft and going quietly insane, I’m trying to make every sentence and every paragraph work. And I wish I could be regain all that reckless, carefree spirit. The worst part of this is I’m certain that I’m overthinking the third draft. But I’m sure I’ll never know because I’m so deeply buried in it that I can barely comprehend what I’ve written.

It also occurs to me that I spent too many carefree years blogging. My writing was an undisciplined–fire and forget–hodge-podge.

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