Writing a novel can be overwhelming, especially if you've studied creative writing or learned anything about doing it well. There's so much to keep in mind--plot points, narrative arcs, character development, setting and atmosphere, dialogue, action, sensory details, emotional truth, motivation, suspense, surprises, secrets, transitions, ad infinitum. All of these factors and so many more go into making up a satisfying novel. How do we keep them all in our head and get them all down on the page?
As a reader, it just seems magical when a novelist brings all these elements and more into play to create a good novel. When important ones are missing, the reader may not know why the book isn't satisfactory, but she knows it just doesn't make the grade.
My own solution has been to work in layers, much like building a house. Once I've developed strong characters and a dramatic situation to involve them (laying the foundation), I write straight through a scene or several scenes, getting down what the characters do and say. This is the basic storytelling structure like the skeletal wooden framework of the house-to-be that rises from the foundations.
Next, I go back through and let the reader see and in other ways sense the surroundings of the scene as experienced by the viewpoint character--and I include emotions at this stage. After that, transition work take place. Each scene must be made to follow smoothly and inveitably from the one before it. Of course, by this time I may have moved the scene around to different places in the story timeline to create more suspense or generate surprise, to further a narrative arc or optimize a plot point.
Then comes the line editing. Can I say this more clearly? Or make this more truly felt? Or give this more emotional power of statement? Or compress this paragraph or scene to add tension and vigor or energy?
This is, of course, a simplified description of this whole process. It often goes in fits and starts on sections at a time instead of the entire manuscript. Frequently, while in one later process, I realize that I made an error or omission in an earlier process, and I have to tear down that section and rebuild. But in the end, I should have a snug brick cottage or grand pillared plantation house or fashionable urban apartment complex.
After that, the problem is how to sell it? How to convince the person in search of living space that mine is the perfect one for him? And that's another whole job!
How do you see the process of writing a novel? What areas do you find most often skimped? Which areas make you toss the book at the wall if missing or ill-written? And if you're a writer, which layer gives you the most trouble, the most joy?
WWK Blogger Paula Gail Benson has two short stories running in Kings River Life Magazine this weekend, "Pelican Spring" and "The Mama Factor." Both are Mother's Day short stories. You can read them by going to: http://kingsriverlife.com/category/kings-river-reviewers/terrific-tales/
Linda Rodriguez is a finalist in two categories for the International Latino Book Awards (given out at BEA the end of May)--one for Every Last Secret and one for editing Woven Voices: 3 Generations of Puertorriquena Poets Look at Their American Lives (with Gloria Vando, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell). Congratulations, Linda!
The second SinC Guppy anthology, Fish Nets, has been released by Wildside Press. WWK authors, Gloria Alden, Warren Bull, Kara Cerise and E. B. Davis have short stories in this volume, which can be bought at Wildside Press, the usual retailers and will be available at the Malice Domestic Conference. Look for "the story behind the stories" on May 1 here!
Upcoming Salad Bowl Saturdays include authors Sasscer Hill on 5/18 and Carolyn Mulford on 5/25. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, send a message to Jim Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.