January 28, 2009

How Do You Write a Fucking Novel?



That's not the actual query. This is what she wrote:

A request for advice, if you would:

I've been trying to take one cohesive story and write a book. The problem I keep running into is that I have so many stories and plots and possible people swirling around in my head that I can't make it happen. I have notebooks and journals and computer files full of parts and excerpts and short dialogues from at least a half dozen stories, they just won't come together, or won't come completely apart. I've tried focusing on just one plot or story, but ideas for the others come rushing in. I've tried writing multiple stories at once, but I get burned out or start confusing the characters or timelines.

Is there some secret process that lets a prolific writer take that kind of mess and make something understandable and... book-like out of it?


While I'm trying to figure out how to formulate an answer, I thought I'd pose the question to y'all. Because I don't have much of a method. Or one that could be explained in an A-Z order. But if any of you knowledgeable novelists have advice, please chime in!

XXX,
Alison

10 comments:

Neve Black said...

Hi AT,
Hmmm...I'm of course I'm no expert on this subject, but I don't think there's a formula, besides having either knowledge and or interest in your subject. I also think the timing has to be right to write too. Maybe the writer should start off on a smaller scale, and write short stories and then move into creating a larger piece. That wasn't meant to sound condescending - but I think if you start by taking little bites of something you gain knowledge of yourself through that process. There's a real time commitment and diligence needed to write so many words per day and create a novel...and hopefully write those words well. :-)

I had an idea for a novel, and I was ready for that challenge. I also knew I had a home for what I was writing, so there was a deadline, or a goal that pushed me to write every day.

I also have a good support group. Every writer I've met via you out here in blogland, Alison and my friends and family around me.

I'll send good thoughts this writers way - Thank you for sharing, AT.

probitionate said...

I agree with what Neve said about starting off on a smaller scale...to a point. (That point is that the disciplines are entirely different. The novels I've read in the past year by short story specialists have...by and large...bitten the big one.)

All writers have different skills in varying degrees of competency that they bring to the job. The talented ones have a mix. The truly talented have something special that's augmented by everything else. The geniuses- Well, they're off on their own. LOL

To me, the writer asking for the advice, whatever their skills are, really needs to buttress themselves in one particular area: the outline. Reading their comments, I was reminded of at least two people I've given advice to in the past; each of them needed structure in order to gain confidence, develop momentum and to get to the end of the trek. So I'd advise lots of outlining, lots of Post-Its, and being very sure of the story before they begin writing it.

Discipline.

Yeah, that's it. : )

Donna said...

They say most first novels are autobiographical because that provides a very easy "outline" to follow. That's one route and it's proven successful (with some fictionalizing, of course). But then again most bestsellers are saga-type novels of multiple main characters--a ladies club of four women narrators or three generations of a family or whatever. Those are sprawling with multiple storylines and readers eat them up.

It sounds like this aspiring novelist does need a map, an outline, realizing of course, that the final product may not resemble the original plan.

Start with one character who wants something badly. Set up several obstacles to achieving that wish. Set her loose on the obstacle course and see what happens?

That's one approach, and it worked for me :-).

Anonymous said...

Thank you everyone. I really appreciate the insights and advice.

=^.^=

Craig Sorensen said...

I think the writer is too focused on the destination, and would do well to think in terms of the journey.

I can relate.

Neve, Probitionate and Donna all brought out great points.

I try to not think about what is over the next hill, but be content to explore where I am, and complete what I'm doing. This is no easy task for me, and it's taken me years to get my hands around it.

I always get other ideas when I'm working on a project (especially longer ones,) and for these new ideas, I take notes. Scratch down the idea, and get back to the task at hand. You can keep a file folder on your computer, or notebooks. I do both.

The key is to complete something. Learn to control the distractions.

Alison Tyler said...

I am the most backwards writer, ever. I don't always know how my novels are going to end. I don't even always know who the hero/heroine is until I really get started. You've seen my notes.

My main advice would be to think less and write more. Worry less about where the story is going and just fucking write it. If you have to cut at the end, that's fine. But I know some people who get so caught in the process that they never finish a thing.

My dad told me this quote a million years ago—and I'm sure I've lost the exact words over the ages—but it was something like: It's not the get up and go that got the book wrote, it's the sit down and stay that gets the job done.

I like that.

XXX,
AT

probitionate said...

Such a huge discussion.

However...

'Writers write.'

'Apply backside to wood (chair.'

And my favourite, given to me by a dear acquaintance when I was struggling with my first novel, a piece of advice I actually used in a screenplay: 'Sometimes you just have to cut off your head.'

knifight said...

I too have bits, snatches, and full up scenes that I am piecing together into a saga I'll need to divide into a few novels. A program called "writers blocks" might help you visually map the inteconnections of your disparate elements - so you can figure out where the bridges might need to be filled in. I used it till I switched over to mac last year. Hope that helps - this isn't an ad & I dont' work for them.

Saskia Walker said...

Eeek, I'm still learning, so I don't like to give advice. Most days I feel clueless about what I do (and some people no doubt say I am. ;-)

What I would say is that a lot what we learn about how to write, we learn through reading. Pick up your favourite books and analyse the way the author put them together, that might help you begin to separate the story ideas from the actual writing process. Count how many characters there were and write down what the main characters wanted at the outset and how they had changed or compromised by the end, because of the other people/events they encountered. List the major events and the turning points of the novel, think about how the author has weaved that with the character’s growth. These kinds of questions might help you pull back from the exciting melange of ideas you have (and you can never have too many ideas, so don't worry about that!) and decide which of them you might include in your mix to make a workable story. And, as AT said, keep writing. Make lots of notes! Read, write, repeat. :) Good luck!

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Heinlein's Rules:

1. You must write.

2. You must finish what you start.

3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.

4) You must mail your story to an editor who will pay you money.

5) You must keep it in the mail until someone buys it.

To all that I'd probably add, you must also do what works best for you (while still following those rules). Every writer's process is different. Some writers work best being able to jump around between two or three works-in-progress. Others have to focus on one. Some outline. Many (I'll take the chance and say most) don't.

If you're getting distracted by other ideas, it probably means you've hit a point in your novel where you've gotten stuck, or scared. My advice would be to scribble down those ideas somewhere else (as others have said) and keep plugging awat at the novel.

And it's not set in stone. If you have an idea that takes you in the wrong direction, go back to where you went off track, and go in a different direction. All writing is practice. Practice makes you better.