Novel Writing

Willingness: The Mindset for Novel Writing

Over the past week, I wrote a series of blog posts on prepping to write a novel.  (You can get the links to all three posts at the bottom of this one.)  I thought that last Friday's post was the final one in the series, but as I wrote it, something kept nagging at me, telling me there was more to share.

And that something was a collection of somethings, thoughts about the mindset that you need to cultivate to write a novel.  Because, it takes a while to get the number of words that make up a novel onto the page.  Sometimes it takes a very long while.  And for starters, you have to be ready to make a commitment to staying with it for the long haul. Newmexico-southwest-pueblo-91723-l

But what, exactly, does that mean?  It is a matter of willingness.  To prep for a novel and to write the damn thing as well, you must have a willingness to:

Be Open.  You need a willingness to go where the work takes you, and not necessarily where you want to take it.  You may begin with an idea about a man who loses his wife, but then as you make beginning notes your realize, no its really about the man's daughter.  You resist, but the voice persists.  So don't ignore it, stay open.  And remember that this is part of the process.

Go Deep.  You need a willingness to go deep.  Being open helps this a lot.  When prepping to write a novel, you often have to push beyond the first thought–and then keep pushing. Go down another layer, unpack another sentence, really burrow in there.  You just might be astonished at what comes up.

Follow the Writing Process.   The first draft of your novel is just that, a first draft.  It is you figuring out the story on the page.  Yes, you've done a lot of prep work, but you'll still find yourself surprised at many a turn.  In subsequent drafts, you will figure out the best way to present the novel to your readers.  But, here's the deal: when you make these wonderful discoveries (oh, my main character is a dog, not a human) you'll probably want to go back and make changes to chapter one.  But resist the urge.  Because, honestly? You're going to find out even more as you go along (oh wait, now my main character is a tiger).  Write all the way through the main draft to the end, taking good notes, and acting as if as you go along.

Go For the Long Haul.  As noted above, this is not a short road you are embarking upon.   Know that, and prepare accordingly.  You plan a bit differently for a trip across country than for one to a town two hours away, don't you? Lay in your supplies and remember to replenish yourself often, with celebrations as you hit milestones, long walks, massages, acupuncture treatments, or whatever self-care works for you.  Writing a novel is hard work.  It is wonderful hard work, but hard work just the same. 

Let Your Heart Pound.  You'll know when you've hit the right idea because your heart will beat a little faster and your breath might catch a little.  And, this will also happen to you as you go along. Its the signal you've hit truth.  And all good fiction tells the truth–at least one version of it.  Welcome it, cherish it, glory in it.

Those are my key pieces of advice for a novel-writing mindset to sustain you.  What are yours?

 

The rest of the series:

Prepping to Write a Novel

How to Prep to Write a Novel

Novel Prep Nuts and Bolts

Photo by Wolfgang Staudt, from Everystockphoto.com.  He's got the coolest collection of photos here.

Novel Prep Nuts and Bolts

And so today we come to the nuts and bolts of prepping for a novel, the third in a series.  (And probably the last, but I feel my brain reaching for more, so maybe not, stay tuned.)  You can read the first two posts here and here, and I've also got them listed at the end of this post.

On Wednesday, I wrote about some things you need to write a novel: tools and habits and space.  Today I'm going to talk about figuring out the things you need to know before jumping in.  Much as I love to promote choosing a topic and just writing, I'm also a huge proponent of advance planning when it comes to writing novels.  I speak from hard experience here.  With the first novel I wrote, I had an idea and just jumped in.  It would have been much, much easier if I had done some advance planning.  At the same time, I also like to leave room for the magic that happens in the writing process–when a character walks onto the stage, or one you thought was a minor character suddenly becomes a major one.  So the information presented here is somewhat of a middle-of-the-road approach.  I do enough so that I don't meander and run the risk of getting lost, and I leave enough open to keep myself interested (because that's one thing I've learned about myself as a writer, if I know too much about every aspect of the story, I'll get bored).

Here we go:

CHARACTER.  All story starts with character.  Period.  Characters are why we read novels and watch movies–because we want that thrill of connection.  And for me, all my fiction ideas begin with the idea for a character.  More often than not, he or she walks into my brain and won't stay quiet.  Some people will tell you that you need to know your characters as well as you know your spouse or BFF, but I take issue with this.  I think you need to know them really, really well–and I think that you'll get to know them even better as you write.  Here's what you do need to know at the very least:

Physical Description:  Height, weight, hair color, eye color, etc.

Backstory: What is your character's past and how does it affect him? (know this at least broadly, specific incidents probably will come as you write)

Occupation:  What does your character do for a living?

Current Situation: Is she married with children or single and dating? Is he just out of school or a man at the end of his life? 

Dreams:  As in, the practical kind and the night kind.  Writing a character's dreams can be a powerful way into their psyche.  The dream world is mysterious and laden with symbols and by writing a dream of your character's, you can tap into these symbols which may lead you to ideas about theme.

Conflict: Internal and external.  An external conflict might be the character looking through a closet for something to wear, while the internal conflict would be her not feeling good enough because she thinks she's too heavy.

Conflict is the engine that drives the story!  You need to figure out one of the following, or better yet both:

What she desires or fears.   Kurt Vonnegut famously said to have the character want something, even if its a glass of water.  Desire rules the world.  Have your character want something and then deny her.  Or, you can have the character fear something and then have him have to deal with it.  Entire movies are built on this premise.  Remember Arachnaphobia?

SETTING.  I'm a place person.  It is really important to me, both in real life and in fiction.  I can't live someplace that doesn't inspire me in some way (even negatively) and I can't write about it, either.  I find it really helpful to have locations figured out ahead of time, both:

Broad:  What city or cities or rural area does the story take place in?

Specific:  What are the settings that your character inhabits on a day to day basis.  What does his house or her apartment look like?  What's the outside?  The neighborhood? How is it decorated on the inside?  Where's his office and what is it like?  School?  Car?  And so on.  Maybe its a lack of imagination on my part, but I tend to visualize locations based on places I've been, houses I've loved, and so on. 

And finally,

PLOT.  The big bugaboo.  Lots of things have to happen in novels.  More importantly, those things have to fit together in a logical sequence of cause and effect.  Yikes.  Again, plot is something that gets illuminated as you go along, AND it behooves you to at least have a rough idea of what's going to happen before you set off on the journey.  You know, like a road map. 

Goal:  This can be the desire or the anti-desire, or fear.  An example of a desire would be a woman desperately wanting to have a baby.  An anti-desire, or fear, would be a woman who wants to avoid pregnancy at all costs.

Tension and release:  Thinking in terms of tension and release can help you design a reader-pleasing plot.  Your character wants something, and you keep throwing obstacles at her so she can't get it.  Things get harder and harder for her, and then perhaps there's a temporary or partical release.  Part of the problem is solved…or is it?  Maybe it just looks like it is solved, but in truth, this solution leads to only more problems.  We humans are hard-wired to respond to the tension and release pattern.  Its how we came into this world.

The list: I find it useful to make a list of things that happen.  This can serve as a broad outline for your story.  Really?  This is about as much as I do.  It seems to be enough to keep me on track.

The synopsis: Not a believer in writing one until after the novel is written and you are marketing it.  To me, writing a synopsis first sucks the life out of the project.  You may feel differently, and if so, go for it.

THEME.  Some novelists are very much concerned with illustrating certain ideas or themes in their work.  Me, not so much.  My fictional themes tend to grow from my characters and their concerns.  And, I'll be the first to admit that it sometimes takes me a draft or two or three to figure out what the hell my themes are.  So I don't really worry about it much at the outset.

So, there you have it, the basic prep work I do before setting off on the journey of writing a novel.  If you have other things you do, please leave a comment and let us all know.

 

Post #1: Prepping to Write a Novel

Post #2:  How to Prep to Write a Novel

How to Prep To Write A Novel

So, you've decided to take the plunge and write a novel.  Perhaps you might be wondering where to begin. Or if you are taking the plunge for a second or third or fourth time, maybe this time you've vowed to get organized ahead of time so you don't spend weeks going down fruitless plot paths. 

On Monday, I wrote about my own path, at times slightly tortuous, to starting another novel.  Today, I'm going to share some prep tips that have worked for me when beginning a novel.

But first, we have to do it.  We have to face the age-old debate–is it better to actually plan a novel ahead or just plunge in and allow it to reveal itself to you, the writer?  I have firm ideas about that.  Yes, it is wonderful to allow your creativity full range and just write what you feel like.  Wonderful until you realize you've written 100 pages that have nothing to do with your main storyline.  Honestly, we all need a container to put our creative into, novel writers included. You're going to do much better if you have some idea where you're going.  I'm the first to say it can be a loose idea, but you need to have an idea. 

Okay, so are you with me?  Great. Today we'll discuss the things you need in your life to write a novel, and on Friday we will talk about the things you need in your brain (and on the page) to write a novel.

Tools. First off, gather you up some tools.  Besides the obvious computer, I like to use a spiral of some sort, smallish so you can carry it with you, as a dedicated notebook for the novel.  Brilliant flashes of insight go in here, as do random notes about the topics we'll discuss below. You might also want to get a 3-ring binder, for printed manuscript pages and completed forms. And if you put things in file folders, grab a bunch of them.  Accordion files can work well also.  Oh yeah, and dictionaries.  Or a word notebook, if you have one.

The Habit of Cultivation.  Novels are long.  200-300 pages long.  That's a lot of pages to fill.  A lot of words to write.  You've got to come up with things that happen, details to make the world come alive, dialogue and thoughts for your characters.  What are you going to do when you need to describe a coffee shop and your mind goes blank?  This is when a habit of cultivating comes in handy.  Writers need to be out in the world observing, writing down their observations or committing them to memory (bad idea, if you ask me) so that there's water to draw out of the well when you need it.

Space.  My first office was a desk shoved into the corner of the bedroom.  That room has long since been converted to the family room, and sometimes I look at that corner and marvel at how I ever wrote there.  But I did.  I wrote articles for art magazines and a couple of coffee table books in that space.  Doesn't matter if you write in a closet, or a corner of the kitchen.  Makes a place for yourself.  You'll need room to store your spiral, your binder, and your file folders and more importantly, you need the psychic space that your own place provides.

Time.  When are you going to write this baby?  Are you going to get up early or stay up late? Are you going to write it at lunchtime or during coffee breaks?  When the baby is napping?  Doesn't matter when you do it, as long as you make a plan for it.  Because, otherwise, it won't happen.  Period.

Vision Board.  You can make this now or after you've done more planning of the type I'm going to discuss in the next post.  But do consider making one.  A vision board for your book can get ideas and juices running like nothing else.  Download my free Ebook on this topic in the right-hand column if you feel so inclined.

That's it for now.  Come back Friday for the last post in this series, in which we'll discuss planning for character, setting and plot.  In the meantime, what are  your essential prep tools for writing a novel?

 

 

Prepping to Write a Novel

When it comes to fiction writing, lately I've been struggling.

First I was totally committed to writing one novel.  Oh, but no.  Then I decided that I absolutely, positively was in love with a different idea.  Until I desperately needed to work on yet a third idea, the best one yet!  This has been my fiction-writing life for the last few months, a little attention here, a bit of attention there, which adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Have I ever mentioned how unhappy I get when I'm not writing fiction?  I exist in a semi-miserable state of dullness when I'm not fully engaged in a fictional world.  So it was vital that I get going on a novel.  And yet, every time I started in again, I'd do the same thing.  Commit to one idea for a bit, then another, then another. 

Part of it, I'm sure, stemmed from uncertainty about my completed novel.  I'm in the process of marketing it to agents, which is not for the faint of heart.  (Honestly?  I understand why the traditional publishing industry is imploding: many agents are so overworked they won't even bother to reply to your queries.  What's wrong with this picture?  Don't the agents rely on writers for their jobs?  Can't they at least manage a polite no?) Repeatedly, I am being told a variation on this theme:  love your writing, but your main character is not relateable enough.  Oh, and get this–being a writer is one thing that makes her unrelateable.

Anyway, it is hard to be creative when you're busy thinking dark thoughts about the publishing industry.  And certainly I had plenty of other writing to keep me busy.  So I kept going on my round-robin of dipping into different novel ideas.

But the truth is, I was driving myself crazy.   I wanted to be deeply engrossed in writing a novel again.  Yet I couldn't manage to make it happen.

Until a couple weeks ago, when my coach challenged me to move forward on this issue.  She suggested I ask for guidance.  I was to ask the universe for a project that felt good and authentic to me, would be fun to write and yet also easy to sell (might as well, right?)

And so I did.  When I walked, I asked for a novel idea.  When I did dishes, I asked for a novel idea.  When I showered, I asked for a novel idea.  I really, really wanted an idea for a novel.

Cue my other ongoing project, office organization.  Sorting through files, I realized I had lots of them full of notes for various truncated novel ideas.  So I made a stack of them and started reading through, with an open mind.  The very first one, a forgotten idea with some rough notes from several years ago, made my heart pound. 

And when I read over the notes I had in that file, I identified my problem.  I'd not done any prep work for the novel!  Worse, I'd not done it for any of my poor stunted novel ideas.  No wonder I was spinning like the Mac pinwheel when I set out to work on them. Oh, I'd started preparing character dossiers and plot outlines.  But something always pulled me away from it, and off I'd go attempting to write.  Which is like building a house without a foundation.

The thing is, I know better.  I've given lectures on how to write a novel in 30 days, which is dependent on having some pretty damn solid prep work in place before you get started.  I exhort my students to get to know their characters and write up at least a loose plot outline before getting started.  I blog about these topics!

But I think I've lost my center as I've been in the process of marketing my previous novel.  If anything can make you feel unsure of yourself, its submitting work to agents.  And beyond that, has been the lack of closure.  I'm not certain where I'm going with the original novel and that lack of certainty has made it hard to move forward.

Until now.

Because I'm on it, baby!  I've committed to working the idea that made my heart flutter, no matter what happens with Emma Jean and no matter where this new novel takes me.  Which means that the next step is some serious novel prep work.  And, since I generally blog about what's on my writing mind, that means I'm going to spend the next two posts (Wednesday and Friday) on this topic. 

I'm excited.  Nothing better than getting to work on a new project.

Chime in!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on starting a new fiction project.

8 Essential Tools For Book Writing (Just in Time for Nanowrimo)

The thing about writing is that you can accomplish it without much in the way of tools.  Really, all you need to finish a book is something to write on and something to write with. Of course, a computer is also helpful, but strictly speaking, it is not a requirement.  Theoretically, you could write your entire book in pencil on legal pads and find someone to type it up for you.

But that would be theoretically.  In the real world, it is good to have some niceties.  And this lack of a need for tools is one reason I got excited the other morning when I realized I had some things to recommend to have on hand when writing a book.  Though, in truth, I guess they would more accurately be called supplies than tools.  But work with me, just for the sake of it, would you?

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Here they are:

1. A good spiral notebook or binder.  This will be used for brainstorming, free-writing, working out your ideas for characters, writing down descriptions, and so on. 

2. A seperate notebook for notes.  This can be a small notepad or a small binder or whatever strikes your fancy.  To my mind, it is necessary because brilliant ideas and directions for changes in your book get lost in the mad rush of writing that goes on in #1.

3. A vision board.  For the visually-minded, a book-writing vision board which collects images and words to inspire you is a wonderful boon. 

4. A story board.  Not to be confused with #3, a story board actually tells the story of your book, scene by scene, on individual index cards or post-it notes tacked up on a board. Its a great aid in seeing where you are going and keeping track.

5.  Post-It Notes.  I can't live without them.  My desk is littered with them, stuck on shelves, to-do lists, in notebooks, on journal pages, everywhere.

6. A binder.  Use this for putting printed book pages in.  Nothing is more inspiring than seeing the pages stack up!

7. A carry-along notebook.  You might want to make #2 do double-duty, but you might also want to choose something compact.  Just make sure you have something with you to make notes on when inspiration strikes–I often use my phone.

8. A box of pens.  Because you'll go through them.

And then, of course, there's that metal thing called a computer…

What are your must-have tools or supplies for writing a book?

 

Image by christgr, via Everystockphoto.

Scheduling Writing

Everystockphoto_211230_m As I work on my novel rewrite, I keep trying to find the writing schedule that works best for me.  To my mind, there are two main ways to fit working on a big writing project into your life:

1. Make time every day.  Get up early, stay up late, write during your lunch hour, ignore the kids, whatever.

2.  Clear stuff away.  Spend a few days getting every single thing on your to-do list finished so you have time–a day off, the weekend–to work on your project.

My preferred method is number one, and it is the schedule I most often recommend to people.  I like it because it keeps you attached to the project, keeps the words in your mind and the momentum going.  In many ways, it is time efficient, because you don't have to go back and re-read where you were when last you managed to make time to write.  It is also good because, let's face it, most of us have so much going on it is impossible to clear everything away for even a day.

And it is this type of schedule that I've been endeavoring to keep this summer.

It is this type of schedule that I find myself failing to keep this summer.

What happens is this all-or-nothing thing.  I get going on my novel, get engrossed, and work on it to the exclusion of all else.  Like today.  I had to pull myself away from the rewrite to get this post done.

But then what happens is that I've got fires to put out.   Lots of them.  Things I've been ignoring, urgent to-dos, phone calls and emails and life in the real world.

So I end up veering between the poles of writing fiction and the rest of my career, even though I try my best to keep up a steady-as-she-goes pace with the rewrite.

Part of this may have to do with the fact that this is the most social summer of my life, with weddings, out-of-town visitors, and family galore, all of which I love.  But most of it has to do with the fact that I love, love, love writing fiction.  And when I get going on it, I don't want to stop.   The reason I sometime stop myself from starting a writing project in the first place is because I know that once I get into it I won't want to stop.

But I'm still pretty sure that the first option is the saner one for a writing project.

How about you?  How do you schedule writing?

The Value of (Groan) Structure

Structure_building_sunset_237219_l So, it was a weekend spent mostly away from the computer.  Two days spent celebrating my birthday with family and friends.

And suddenly it is Monday morning again.  Besides numerous manuscripts to read for people and a bunch of unfinished assignments, there's the novel rewrite to get back to once again.  And despite the fact that I'm feeling just the tiniest bit unfocused this morning, I am on it.  No really, I am.  On it.

Or at least I will be once I finish meandering about the internet writing this post.  But here's the deal–when I do get back to the rewrite it is going to be simple to ease right back into it.

Why?

I'll tell you why: structure.

Because I have a structure for rewriting in place.  Because when I finished up on Friday, I reviewed what I had already done (five chapters!) and looked ahead to where I would start after the weekend.  This was easy to do because of the structure I've created for myself.

Here's the deal: as writers and creative types, we resist structure.  I know I do.  I want to be wafty and spontaneous and free.  And yet this resistance has led me astray on several occasions.  Jumping into writing a novel without having the vaguest idea where I was going, for instance (I'm not talking about my current novel here, but an earlier one I wrote).  Or starting a knitting project without figuring out a pattern.  And don't even get me started on how many times I've headed off for an appointment without finding the address ahead of time.
Dome_structure_teatre_237225_l

Even though we resist structure, it is inherent in writing.  For instance, just by choosing a genre, you're imposing a certain amount of structure on yourself.  Say you decide to write fiction over non-fiction, you've already narrowed things down.  And then you can choose even further, if you want to write romance, mysteries, thrillers or literary fiction.  Each of these has a certain structure that you'll need to follow in order to get published, or even have a novel that makes sense.

It is easy to embrace the romantic notion that all you have to do is start writing, and voila, after a few hundred pages you'll have a novel.  Go ahead and try that and see what you come up with.  I've done it myself and gotten only pages of writing on yellow legal pads to show for it.

So, don't resist structure, it is your friend.  That being said, it can be a wobbly friend, or a rigid friend, or a fair-weather friend.  You can create a loose outline of events in your novel that is more like a list (what I did for this current novel), or you can create a very rigid, OCD-type outline, complete with roman numerals and all that.  But come up with something. 

And after you've created a structure for the actual novel, come up with a structure for how you will approach it.  Will you start at the beginning of one draft and go all the way to the end of it?  (My preferred method; actually I think it is the only way to write a decent novel for a variety of reasons I don't have room to go into here.)  Or will you be one of those writers who has to polish every word and every sentence before moving onto the next?  (The mere thought of working this way makes me cringe.)  Again, it is your choice.  But choose something.  Because once you have a plan, a structure, in place, it is so much easier to proceed.

And then when you come back from a weekend away and say to yourself, now where was I on that rewrite? you'll know the answer.  And you can get right back to work.

What are your favorite structures for planning and for doing the actual work?  Do tell.

Deconstruction of a Rewrite

EJmanuscriptnotebook Years ago, I asked one of my MFA mentors how to go about rewriting the novel I was then working on.  As I recall, she told me to sit down with the manuscript and re-read it.  Um, not the most helpful of advice.  Yes, it is imperative to reread a manuscript when you are going to rewrite it, but what are you reading for?  What should you be looking for?  How do you figure out what to do?  It is incredibly daunting to hold a 350 page manuscript in your hands and try to decide what to do first.

As most of you know, I've set to rewriting my novel this summer.  This after I was convinced that the 8 rewrites I had already completed would be enough.  But then an agent read it, said she was interested, and gave me comments on what she would look for if I cared to rewrite it.

Key word: comments.  Because hers gave me a way with which to begin the rewrite.  They fell into two areas:

1.  The main character, while funny, kick-ass and brash, is also bitchy and difficult to take at times.  (She's a woman who does what she wants, when she wants, and of course, if she were a male character, her behavior would not be an issue.  But that is a topic for another time.)  The agent felt that she would have better luck presenting the novel to editors if Emma Jean were more reliable.

2.  Some of the secondary characters are not fully developed.  Because Emma Jean is such a powerful character,  the others exist as sort of satellites to her.  While I understand Emma Jean intimately, I never pushed to truly get to know some of the res of them.  

So that is my charge, to make Emma Jean relatable and develop the most important of the secondary characters.  Before I began, I also kicked these comments around with my writing group (who have read the book every time I rewrote it) and other writers who've read part or all of it.  And here's how I have proceeded so far.

First of all, I took a trip to Office Depot. (Brief aside: when I was working on my MFA, after each residency I would take part of the money from my student loans and go buy supplies at Office Depot, so it is a bit of a ritual for me.) I bought a ream of three-hole punched paper on which to print the novel, and a pretty pink binder to put it in.  Then I languished in the journal aisle and eventually, after much pondering,
bought two small spiral-bound notebooks, one red, one black and white.  One became the journal I
wrote about the characters in, and the other became a place to take random notes that occurred to me as I worked on the characters and reread the manuscript.

Next, before I did anything else, even read the manuscript, I returned to the characters, specifically the three the agent mentioned as needing development.  I started by putting each of them through the Ordinary Day exercise, which I found incredibly revealing.  In some cases, that was enough.  In others, I did a bit more work, whether through time lines of their life or writing specific bits of backstory.  All of this proved so helpful that I did it for everyone of the characters, though some only got a few pages of effort.  I wrote it out in longhand, in one of the new journals.  For me, writing longhand seems the more direct route to my deepest self.

A note here: for reasons unknown to me at the time, I felt it important to work with the characters before I reread the manuscript.  It just felt like the right choice, and also I was a bit daunted to face reading the 350-page tome.  It proved to be a good move, as I was able to come up with fresh insights that would not have occurred if I already had evidence of what I thought they were like in front of me.

By the time I finished with the character work, my little red journal was starting to get lots of good notes and ideas in it, all written as they occurred to me, without making an effort to categorize them at this point.  Now it was time to read the novel.  But first, I pulled out as many colored flags and post-it notes that I could find (should have bought more at Office Depot) and made a key.  I used pink for Emma Jean's lover, orange for her husband, purple for the throughline about her bitchiness.  The point was to be able to track the characters and themes I really needed to focus on in this rewrite.  
EJmanuscriptopen

Finally, basket of flags and post-its at hand, I began reading the novel.  I made notes on the manuscript pages and in the little red journal, and flagged character arcs and throughlines madly, as you can see in the photos. (Interestingly, most of the flagging happened in the first two-thirds of the novel, which is where most of the rewriting will happen.)  I also made a list of chapters and what exactly happens in them, because I know from past experience how easy it is to forget.  (Does she meet Ava in Chapter One or Chapter Two?  Oh that's right, I made Chapter Two into two chapters, so now it's actually Chapter Three where they meet.)

So now I'm ready to actually rewrite, right?  Not quite.  Because my notes are a mish-mash of thoughts and ideas, scrawled as I read and wrote bios. 

In the final step before the actual rewriting, I spent a pleasant morning at my neighborhood coffeeshop with my friend and web designer (my website will be up soon!),making sense of my notes.  With legal pad, little read journal and list of what happens in each chapter, I began.  Going through the legal pad, I wrote #1 on the first page, #2 on the second, and so on, for 23 pages, which constitute the 22 chapters and one epilogue in my novel.  And then I went through my notes, and when something had to change in chapter one, I noted that on the #1 page, and so on through the book.

So now I'm ready to do the actual writing.  Which, I must say, will be far and away the easiest part.  I've done the heavy lifting already.  The pondering, figuring out, and conceptualizing are what is tough.  Now all I have to do is flip through the pages and add stuff in.  Easy, right?  Well, if you believe that I have a bridge for sale that I'd love to talk to you about.

Ah, nobody said writing a novel was easy.  And that is what makes it so much fun.  What about you?  What are your methods for rewriting?  Do you do as much pre-writing as I do?  Have a great tips to ease the process?

The Recalcitrant Character

Recalcitrant:

re-cal-ci-trant

-adjective

1. resisting authority or control; not obedient or compliant; refractory

2. hard to deal with, manage, or operate

This describes exactly one of the characters in my novel.  Actually he's very passive aggressive in the novel, but as I've been trying to get to know him better, he's been recalcitrant, unyielding in giving up his secrets.  Which has made it difficult for me to move forward on my novel rewrite.

I'm going through and deepening my understanding of my secondary characters as a precursor to actually starting the rewrite.  Yesterday and today I've been working on the husband of my protagonist.  But he's balky and remote and really didn't want me digging around in his psyche.

Finally, through perseverance, I managed to get him to talk, and I learned a lot about him, interesting things that will flesh out his character in the novel.  This got me to thinking, how, as with all fiction, what you need with characters is a way in.  You need to find the key that will unlock who they are for you.  And sometimes you may have to try a variety of techniques to accomplish this.

Here are a few:

1.  The Ordinary Day.  I wrote a blog post about this recently, and I still think it is the most useful character exercise you'll find anywhere.  But what works for me, may not work for you.  Honestly, what works for me this time through might not work so well for me next time through–that's the nature of fiction writing.  So I reserve the right to fall out of love with this exercise.

2.  The Interview.  All your journalistic types will like this one.  Pretend you are going to write a feature article about your character and interview her.  Or, imagine that you are interviewing him for background on a certain aspect of his life, say, his work, and ask questions.  Often if you can get a character talking about a specific thing you can keep him talking. 

3.  The Character Dossier.  Write down all the specifics–height, weight, appearance, style of dress, mannerisms, etc.  The basic exterior stuff which can often lead to interior stuff.  For instance, perhaps you see your character as very tall and then you realize she stoops all the time.  From there its a short leap to understand that she's embarrassed about her height and that knowledge can lead to all kinds of revelations.

4.  Dressing the Character.  I got this from Robert Ray, author of The Weekend Novelist, which has fabulous prepping exercises for writing a novel.  (His website has some pretty good stuff on it, too.) Have your character go to her closet and write what happens as she dresses for the day.  This can be folded into the ordinary day exercise.

5.  In the Dream.  Another one from Robert Ray.  What does your character dream?  Ray recommends that you use the phrase in the dream as a starting point, and continue it throughout: in the dream, the sky was purple and the moon blue, and she was walking through a forest.  In the dream, cats barked and she understood everything they said to her.  In the dream...I've found this an especially useful, if sometimes odd, way into those totally refractory characters.  (Note the use of the word refractory, which means, hard or impossible to manage.  I just learned that this morning, while looking up the definition of recalcitrant.)

6.  Action.  The novelist Darnell Arnoult tells her students to give themselves short assignments and often these involve characters in action.  So, for example, write about your character under something, breaking something, cleaning something, above something, shopping for food, buying gas, whatever.  You get the idea.  The beauty of this is that you can often write it when you only have a little bit of time.

Okay, those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with recalcitrant characters?

Giving Up, Or Why I Should Once In Awhile

Friday I hit the wall.  
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As is my usual wont, I woke early (6ish), grabbed my coffee, and went to work on my writing.  Lately I've been thinking deep thoughts about my novel rewrite and writing them down, which leads to more deep thoughts and more writing.  I'm writing about characters, trying to get to know them better, and pondering plot points.  All of this is intense work.

On Friday morning, I wrote a couple paragraphs and stopped, because I knew I was done.  Just…done.  My pen wouldn't move.  I couldn't form any more thoughts connected to the novel.  Nothing.  Nada. Zilch.

My brain, however, seemed to have plenty of room for thoughts about, oh, the missing child in my city, Kyron Horman.  Or the oil spill in the Gulf.  Or the World Cup.  (No, I'm not really a soccer fan.  I'm trying to be.  I have this idea that it would be really fun to buy season tickets for the new pro soccer franchise that is coming to Portland.  But first I have to learn to enjoy the game.  And that seems to be slow going.) 

In other words, my brain wanted to focus on anything other than writing.

My brain, poor thing, needed a break.

What I should have done was recognize this right away and take some time off from thinking and writing about my novel.  Lord knows I've got tons of other things to work on.  Or, if I didn't feel like writing, I could read.  Or take a walk.  Or go look at art at a gallery. 

But did I do any of those things?

Of course not.

Instead, I soldiered on.  I was determined, absolutely determined, to get more done on the novel rewrite.  So what if my brain didn't want to work on it anymore?  "Pathetic, lazy brain," I told it, "buck up and let's get going here."

And you can imagine how well that worked.

Yeah, right.  About as well as….well, I can't think of a metaphor so provide your own.  And so, instead of intentionally deciding to take some time off and give my brain a rest, I kept at it.  And ended up reading endless updates of the Kyron Horman case and pondering all sorts of interesting websites I'd never seen before.

This kept up all day Friday and Saturday.  Finally, by Sunday, my brain had had enough rest, the dam broke, and off we went again.  However, I suspect if I had just taken the time off on Friday morning, I'd have probably been back at it by the afternoon.

Lesson learned: it is not always a good thing to soldier on.  Though the prevailing point of view in this society would have us believe otherwise, which is one reason I think it is so hard.  In the future, I'm going to do my best to pay attention when my brain rebels and give the poor hard-working thing some time off.

What about you?  How do you know when you've hit the wall?  What do you do when you splat against it?