November 3, 2010

How to write a novel

There are writing guides all over the internet.  Do this, don't do that -- and oh, don't forget to create your brand and tout it on the web!  I read a few of these articles and tossed them all aside.  As with all things in life, I learned how to do it myself.

This is surely not how others came to write a novel, but it's how I did it.  First I sat down and asked myself what I liked about books, and more importantly, what I didn't.  Fiction today seems to be created through "agreed upon" formulas, and heaven forbid you leave out a required item.  You need this component, and that.  And don't forget the backstory! 

Thing is, I always hate those formulaic intrusions into fiction.  Why is the government always en evil, bad guy?  Why, when someone does something good, does there always have to be another character obsessively dedicated to destroying that character's hopes?  And why oh why do I have to know every little thing about each character?  I don't like these things, so I tossed them all.

Note: This was my thinking then and I'm recording it the way it happened.  I've matured through writing the three books, and I've got conflicts going on all over the place in Xmas Carol.  But in the first book, I tried to avoid it -- successfully, I think.  The conflict in "The Worlds" is between humans and their nature.  No need for a bad guy.

I decided I would only write the interesting parts and leave everything else out.  My goal was to have a book where every single page is compelling, where there are no dead spaces, no waiting, no boredom.  That was my formula.  It seemed like a good idea and that's how I played it.  Knowing I wouldn't have to tend to all these useless bits that are in other stories, I was free to plow ahead.

Ah, but then I remembered that there are these things called characters.  I've learned a lot by writing three books, and most of it was about how to create characters.  I resisted characters at first.  In truth, I didn't even want to have any but I realized that was not a functional concept.  So I made up a character, and what a surprising adventure that turned out to be.

They live.  That's what I've learned about characters.  They have a life of their own, to the point where they even do stuff you don't want them to do.  But you have to let them do it, just as you let a child on the verge of adulthood take her first steps out in the world alone.

The first Very Good Thing I did was invent a character, a wonderful scientist named Dr. Edward Boltzmann.  And yes, I took the name of one of my favorite physicists for this main character.  But almost as soon as he existed, he started to express "his" irrepressible humor and insight.  He was so refreshing!  And this took place almost immediately.  How could that be?  The answer is that they live; they truly do.

Once I'd created Boltzmann, I had to imagine him somewhere, and that gave me the first of my places.  And then it seemed he had relationships -- and one by one, characters began to pop up my mental landscape, the place where the stories are created.  Places, characters and interaction = the story.  It's that simple.

From there, it took off.  I'll post more in the coming days about the structure of the books and how I wrote them.  But this was how it began, with the creation of a fictional man named Edward Boltzmann.  From that point forward, it was Boltzmann (and the other characters) who took the book in a definite direction.  And that trajectory was the story.  It was an organic process.  All I did was follow along.

I don't know how I'll ever gain readers for this blog, but should you arrive, and if you're interested in writing and have given it a shot (any amateur or professional effort will suffice; I'm not snooty about this), please comment about your own experiences.

Surely someone will visit this blog one day.  Surely.

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