Lessons a novel will teach

I’ve been somewhat remiss in my responsibilities, it appears. As you may have noticed, I’ve yet to turn in that 10-word short story. No, my frogs didn’t eat it. This latest batch of words, well, they gave me a few fits. The good news that I recently worked out an outline that I’m happy with, and I think I even know how I’m going to use all the words. Yay, progress! I intend to work on it this weekend, and hopefully it will be done soon. So, if you’re a fan of fiction where words that don’t necessary go together are fit like square pegs into round holes, you’ve got something to look forward to.

Speaking of fiction, this is hard to believe, but it’s been nearly a full year since I quite unintentionally dropped the first few hundred words of my novel-in-progress, which has since earned the working title Famine. It started as an exercise in basic description and hopefully, characterization. In other words, could I make up a person in a specific situation? Would they seem “real”? To date, that exercise has grown by some 45,000 words.

I’m proud of that, but at the same time, I’m not completely happy with it. I really wanted to be further along than the halfway point a year later. Yes, I do understand that it’s pretty silly to expect so much out of something with such humble beginnings. Nobody said I had to be rational about this business, though. In fact, I’m writing my first novel, so, you know, I’m supposed to have unrealistic expectations. I still reserve the right to believe I’m going to finish this thing with minimal effort, sell it for a hundred quadrillion dollars to the first publisher that sniffs at it, and spend the rest of my days writing New York Times’ bestsellers on a Tahitian beach under the influence of rum drinks accompanied by tiny pink umbrellas.

No, I don’t really believe any of that, but it sounds good, right?

So, then, with a year of very part-time novel-writing under my belt, what do we know at this point? We know that this business is hard, for a lot of reasons. Those include:

  1. Doing the narrative voice right is hard when stuff is happening. When I was writing something that was nothing more than complicated than a thirsty, nameless guy waking up and trying to reach a faucet, things were mostly simple. Now there’s like, action and fights and stuff. In the midst of a car chase, it’s tempting to forget about the tone and revert to book report-style descriptions. I’m not trying to write Cliff’s Notes here.
  2. Characters are hard when the story’s not just about a dude alone. When there’s only one or maybe a pair of characters, keeping them straight is pretty easy. But when you start adding multiple new characters, you have to remember that Bob doesn’t talk like Jimmy, and Jimmy would never call someone “punkin” like Loralie might. And don’t even get me started on what “Candy” says when no one’s looking.
  3. The middle is hard. In the first 10,000 words, I had only a vague idea of what was supposed to happen later down the road. At the midpoint, though, there are quite a few threads going. All those threads need to somehow come together in the next 40-50k words, and can’t just diverge at a whim anymore without serious repercussions. Without the right planning at this point, I’ll have to make up a pink elephant to magically appear in the last chapter and grant everyone three wishes for resolving whatever issues are outstanding. I’m pretty sure only Dr. Seuss could get away with Pachydermata ex Machina.

Make no mistake, though, I’m not priming the excuses pump to explain why I’ll never have a finished manuscript to waste my paper and printer ink on. I will finish it, before the end of this calendar year, if I have my way. And I don’t want it to seem like I’m complaining and don’t enjoy the work.  Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth; I love every minute of it.  But I see now why every Tom, Dottie, and Stieg Larsson believes they’d easily be the next Hemingway if they just found a few days to write down the words for that magic book they’ve got in mind, yet only a fraction of people manage to finish the job.  The job, it ain’t easy.

It is, however, very rewarding, even if Famine never sees print. My characters continually seem to do whatever they want, regardless of what I had planned for them in the beginning. Being a newbie, at best, I don’t honestly know if that’s what’s supposed to happen, but it seems to be working in my case. And I couldn’t be happier.

Unless it was finished, of course. But if nothing else, I’ve learned now that you can’t rush creation.

Especially with four kids, a full time job, four fish and a pair of potentially expectant frogs.