Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beginning the journey of 50,000-75,000 words

If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the journey to write a novel might be said to begin with a thousand first steps. Or at least, that's the way it's worked for me. I've had a number of ideas for novels over the years, and have actually started to write some of them. The novel I'm currently starting? I've started it before - at least twice.

I've spent a lot of time and no small amount of angst trying to analyze the reason or reasons for my failure to bring my novel to term. The nebulous plotline I started with didn't really work out as I wrote, so I tried to force it to. Then, one of my minor characters turned out to talk and behave in ways that didn't suit what I'd planned for her. But the biggest deficiency was that, while I had a vague idea of how I wanted the novel to end, I hadn't even a vague route planned to get me from the beginning to that ending. And my ending wasn't nearly well-formed enough to make a good target.

Pick up any book on novel-writing or even a writer's magazine and you will learn that novels are supposed to be outlined. But for me, writing an outline seemed like a) as much work as writing the novel - maybe even
more - and therefore an almost insurmountable obstacle, and b) a procedural quagmire that would not only prove impossible for me to organize but might actually drain my enthusiasm for the project and render me unable to finish.

Additionally, I'm the sort of writer who gets the voices and personalities of key characters only by writing them, and then the plot tends to grow out of the traits and behaviors of the characters. How on earth can I possibly outline a plot for characters I don't yet really know?

And yet, it's clear that the "process" I was using, which was ostensibly tailored to my personal quirks and limitations, was not sufficient, since it had not yet yielded a finished - or even half-finished - product.

What I needed was a method for producing at least a rough outline that I could use as a framework on which to hang my novel parts as I produced them - something that would be easy for me to produce and easy for me to alter as I made discoveries along the way that required changes to the proposed plotline.

Ironically, I found what I was looking for indirectly. I had downloaded a piece of software for novelists called yWriter, written and distributed free by novelist Simon Haynes of Spacejock Software. This software isn't a word processor; it doesn't help you to write a novel so much as help you to organize it as you write it. As I read about it, I could see this was a huge component of what I needed in my quest to write this novel, but it still wasn't going to help me to plot.

Then I read some of the articles Simon publishes on his website on how to write novels and get them published and lightning finally struck. Suddenly, I had a method that made sense to me and that looked as though it could solve many of the procedural problems I'd experienced during earlier attempts.

But this post is already long enough, so I'll save discussion of the method for the next one.

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