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How to write a novel

August 25, 2017

How to Write a Novel

I have no idea how other people do it. In reading interviews with authors or comparing notes with actual authors I know, there are certainly similarities in general, but we don't get into the specifics. How could we? The process begins with a blank page (or screen) and ends with a story with characters who act as if they have their own lives beyond the pages of the book. So I'm going to talk a bit about how I do it, but if you're trying to write your own novel I don't know if it'll do you any good at all. I suspect this is something where we each have to find our own path.

I begin with a premise and an ending, sometimes having written an entire short story. For "Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel" I had a written sketch that involved time travel, a scientist explaining things to a reporter, and a woman lost in time. For my current project I began with a completely realized short story.

I don't outline nor do I make lists of characters. Instead i have a road map in my head. I know how it begins and ends, but all that stuff in the middle is a fog. As I write forward, the fog condenses into the text. I always have a general idea of "what happens next" but when it gets to the specifics I start writing and see where it goes. Often I'm completely surprised. In "Time" I got to one of the big scenes at the end of a chapter and wanted to end on a dramatic note. So I wrote a sentence that I knew would be a shock to the reader. And then I sat back, knowing it was the right thing to do and yet being shocked myself. I had no plan as to what to do next even though I knew where I wanted to end up. I had to let the situation percolate in my brain for a while before I was ready to continue.

In "Shh! It's a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender's Guide," I discovered my characters might have their own ideas as to where to take the story. At one point they take off to the Catskills for two chapters which was not something that had ever been part of my original planning. Yet as I continued to write I found all sorts of things -- little details, character moments, opportunities for jokes had not occurred to me when I first began the novel -- that made me realize they knew why they had to go there even if I didn't.

So I guess my advice is not to lock yourself into a rigid plot, listen to your characters, and one more thing, keep track of how much you're writing. On Facebook I look at the "On This Day" app each day, which brings up my postings on that date going back to 2009 when I first joined. And what I found was that I was posting on previous projects about adding 1000 words here and 2000 words there, and they added up. This summer I was distracted by so many things that the novel got little attention. This week alone, since I've started noting word counts, I've added over 8000 words. It's a motivator to keep going,

Is that helpful to you? If so, good luck with your own writing. And if not, don't sweat it. Figure out what works for you.


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