Thursday, January 04, 2007

How Do You Write a Novel?

Someone asked me a question that gave me pause.

“How do you write a novel?”

He didn’t mean me, but the general generic “you.” After I shook sense back in my head, I thought for a moment and gave him the only answer I could think of, “One word at a time.”

I’m not sure what he was asking me. The gist of the conversation led me to believe he didn’t want a step by step manual. I didn’t think he wanted how to birth plot bunnies, how to design characters, whether or not to do an outline, or the logistics of getting from “Once upon a time” to “the end.”

Maybe, I was wrong.

It seems to me that how a writer writes a novel (other than one word at a time) is unique to each writer if not each story.

When I start a story, I don’t often know the ending or even the full plot. The story reveals itself to me as I write it. I do think ahead and if I’m working on chapter 3, I know what needs to happen in chapter 6. I don’t write outlines. I keep it very flexible and let the story build itself.

That’s all we really are, right? We don’t create stories. We write stories. We’re facilitators between the real world and the imaginary world in our heads. Writing is like a maze. We’re not the walls or the dead ends. We’re the path that shows the walls to the reader.

Sometimes the maze is fairly simple and short. Sometimes it twists and turns. When the writer gets lost in their own maze, what do they do?

Call an editor.

Ok, other than that?

That’s when we scale a wall and scan the area. That’s when we “outline” the plot even if it’s only in our heads.

I’ve tried to think about how it is that I write a novel or a story. The only thing I can think of is: I type it.

I’ll use Tainted Past, coming soon via Lady Aibell, as an example. I wanted to do something Twilight Zone-ish. I wanted something chilling, but not “Scary dude with an axe” chilling. After watching Saw 1 and 2, reading some Poe for the umpteenth time and refreshing my tertiary knowledge of Descartes, I wondered: Why do we take our knowledge of ourselves to be fact? What makes a man? What makes a life? How can I answer these questions in a way that carries a reader with me? Do I really have the linguistic ability to make someone question reality?

I started typing. After getting three-quarters through the story, I sent it to a friend. He got back to me with, “I like it. It’s hot, but disturbing.”

I asked him, “What makes it disturbing?”

“It could happen.”

That’s what I wanted. Something so mundane and innocent that it could be real. Not a gremlin on a wing that defies the laws of physics. Not a crazed madman who kills circles around bungling police officers. Not idiot teenagers hacked to death in a haunted house while having an orgy in a shower.

I wanted something that was chilling due to its simplicity. I want the reader to question themselves by writing something that encourages you to cheer for the bad guy—if there really is a bad guy in this particular story. AND I wanted it hot. After getting more feedback, I finished the story and sent it into submissions. The first publisher to see it accepted it.

I’ll only know if I achieved my goal once the story is in the hands of readers, but that’s one way that I write a story. Full Circle was written in a completely different fashion with different goals. Selling Foxx is totally different from Full Circle and Tainted Past.

Surely there are similarities in my process that I don’t see, but for now I’m sticking to my answer.

How do you write a novel? One word at a time.

1 comment:

Bernita said...

One word at a time.
One day at a time.
Thank you, IM, for your good wishes.