My good friend and fellow novelist, Tom Nixon, approached me about a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Starting a novel. We've both done it successfully. We're both well aware of what it takes -- but that doesn't mean it's easy for us. Half the battle in the "writing-a-book" dream is the getting started. I often get comments like, "I'm going to write a book someday," or "So, I have this REALLY good idea for a book... I just don't know where to start."
I wish my answers to those people were as thoughtful and insightful as the ones I'm going to give you today, but alas, hindsight is 20/20. My dear friend, Tom has stopped by the old blog to give his 2 cents as well.
Starting a novel is like dating. In your head, you know what you want, what you like and definitely what you DON'T want. But the thing is -- usually you don't go straight from the first date to being hitched with two kids. Nope. Doesn't work like that. You have to nurture the relationship. Get to know each other, feel each other out for what's working and what's not and then you fall in love until you make the perfect couple. So when I tell you that I date my novels -- I seriously mean it.
The novels/stories I tend to work on are the ones that I can't get out of my head. The ones where the characters won't SHUT THE HELL UP. Then I get to know my characters -- I learn about them, ask them questions, let them talk to me. I look up pictures or songs that remind me of them and then I start over with the plot. Figuring out all the twists and turns until I'm ready to start drafting.
I'm as meticulous in my writing life as I am in my real life which means, YAY LISTS! YAY ORGANIZATION! YAY ANAL-RETENTIVE TENDENCIES! Yes, dear readers, I have to be organized to the max before I can write a word. I wish I could just dive headfirst into a novel, but this is not the case for me.
I'm not one who believes in set "rules" (another post for another day). I don't believe there's ONE way for everyone. Especially when it comes to creative output. I just wanted to give you a little glimpse into *my* process.
I couldn't tell you how or even when I started writing what would eventually be novel. I just started writing one day and didn't stop until I had a pile of writing about 120,000 words in length and something that I thought maybe, just maybe, might be a novel buried somewhere inside of it. Some of these characters have been with me for years. Short stories, half finished chapters strung together- but they'd never managed to coalesce into an actual story and I was never sure why.
When I was a Junior in high school, for one of my American Lit final projects, I wrote a novel. I'm not even sure if the teacher read it, to be honest. (I'm pretty sure I got an A on it though.) It was terrible. 60 pages, single spaced... if memory serves me it was a long, convoluted tale involving the daughter of the President and the son of the British Prime Minister being kidnapped by the evil dictator of Serbia (this was around the time we were bombing Yugoslavia). Obviously, they fell in love, but then, weirdly, aliens were involved?
Like I said: It was terrible.
But what's the difference? What turned me around from plots that rambled around and ended up nowhere and characters that were either flat, boring and uninteresting or a bundle of clichés and stereotypes? If I have to really think about it, I think it came down to two things:
First, I got organized. That's not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have 120,000 words to sift through. But I quickly realized what was 'good' and what wasn't and that's when I started outlining. Outlining was the most helpful thing I did for myself over the course of writing my novel. It's a lot like planning your dream vacation: you may no exactly where you want to go and what you want to do when you get there, but you're probably going to need a map at some point. Your outline is your map.
Mine was pretty simple. Just one, two sentence descriptions of every scene in each of my chapters and the rest was sort of in my head. When I got it right in my head, that's when I started writing.
Second and maybe the most important part of all, I started writing about my characters and not about my plot. I think that's a tricky line for people to walk sometimes, but once my characters were developed, three dimensional and actually felt 'alive' to me, that's when my story fell into place and I really started writing my novel. When you write about people and not plot, that, at least, is when my novel began to take on a life of it's own.
The common denominator for all writers is the urge to tell a story. To breathe life into our characters and if that desire lives deep down inside of you -- you owe yourself a chance to try. Take something we've told you and try it out or find a method or process that works for you and use 2014 as the year you complete a novel!