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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Teeth Gritted, He Forces Himself to Post About the Novel-in-Progress

Zero words on the chart for today, though I did actually make it to (pace Scalzi) the cafe by 8:45 or so; after a depressed half an hour looking through a newspaper, I managed to do some scribbling in the direction of an outline.

OK, "outline" is an exaggeration. I have no idea what this book entails, what is going to happen. I sort of feel like I know what it's about in terms of theme and idea; but how these characters are going to do anything satisfying plot-wise, I haven't the faintest. I fear the whole thing will be an ungainly wreck.

So say I don't need an outline: say an Octavia-Butler-style sentence would do. I wrote one of those.

I still feel like I'm drowning.

At this point in a short story, one big push -- one leap of faith -- would do it. One crazy planning/dreaming/writing jag, and the whole thing might cohere into a shape, and then it would be one frenzied gushing of words until the end. Like when I wrote the zeppelin story, say -- there's a moment when the protagonist (the other me) finally asks himself "hold on; an assassin, AND pirates, AND a war-city all at once? Surely this can't be coincidence?" I was at that moment myself in the writing of it; I'd just been piling on one pulp extravagance after the other, and suddenly reached a panicky moment of wondering -- how is this going to cohere?

But in a story that size -- well, it was a scary hour or so, but pretty soon a way for it to cohere bubbled up from the sunken burrows of my brain; and after that I knew the plot, and it was one rattletrap, breakneck ride through the first draft to what I thought was the ending (David Moles balked at that ending later, and forced me to come up with a better one, but that's another story).

I'm pretty sure this strategy is not going to work in a novel. And certainly not at this point -- only 17,574 words in. (A shortish novel is 90,000 or so.) The outlines are only just emerging. I have plenty more blundering to do.

I sort of thought I knew what this book looked like. It had a single main character. He had a problem. It would just follow him until he solved that problem.

It was going to be easy.

But about 10,000 words in, that character ran into a dead end; and after fretting for a while, I took a flying leap and just went on, by creating a whole new point-of-view character in a whole new milieu.

The connection between Siob and Fift -- those are the characters -- is a thematic connection, not an energetic one. I felt like I needed a new place to stand for thematic reasons -- that I had to look through someone else's eyes now, or the book would be thin and false.

But is that a good idea? Can I pull off on the plot level what theme has pushed me into? Will the two storylines be able to meet and merge and carry each other?

Or have I just blundered into a swamp? Will I end up throwing away everything I'm writing now?

Currently, the spreadsheet tells me, we're looking at mid-March 2008 for a finished first draft.

I hate this.

Tell me it gets easier.

Posted by benrosen at March 27, 2007 05:59 PM | Up to blog

Write the ending first. Then the only problem is that the middle keeps getting longer, Zeno's-Paradox-style.

Posted by: David Moles at March 28, 2007 04:54 AM

Don't worry about length, really. 90K is also a very genre specific number. I don't run into writers outside of the genre worrying about these numbers, and I think it's a shame that writers in the genre feel compelled to reach for a number of words instead of just writing whatever length a piece should be. If it's an 80K novel you write, you can sell that too. There are lots of them out there. There are even lots of 70K novels out there. And not just YA novels, either. If it's good, people will hear about it and buy it.

If you're 18K into it, you've got a good start. Keep going. Don't look back. Just run with it like you would a short story. The only difference is you have to figure out how to pace yourself for a novel run. Short stories in an hour rush. Novels can be written in a rush too, but it's more like at least a few months (for very fast novel writers--obviously not me) to a year or two.

What works for me is this: you've probably heard of the page a day method, right? 365 days a year, one page a day and you've theoretically written a novel. Well I don't like to write everyday, so this doesn't work for me, but I do like to get about 7 to 10 pages a week written, which is the same or more than what you'd get if you did a page a day. So I usually write every other day at this point, and write anywhere from 3 to 5 pages in a sitting. It feels doable to me, quick but not rushed, and I get the same amount of pages done (or more) each year. So if you don't already have a pace established that you like, consider something like that.

I'm excited to read this. But from my experience, you'll hit another hard spot as you near the end and have to start drawing what you've set into motion to a close.

But yay! Book!

Posted by: Christopher Barzak at March 28, 2007 01:21 PM

David, I wish you luck with your ending-first... I think that would drive me totally nuts. :-/

Chris, 90K was pulled out of a hat, just so I can run the numbers in my spreadsheet and have some sense of how I'm doing. It may insist on being longer or shorter, I dunno.

A rhythm would be a good thing to find. If I could get a few hundred words down four days a week I'd be happy.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 28, 2007 05:41 PM

I think one of the stories I'm planning just decided it wants to be a novel, not a short story.

My automatic response was, "But I don't write novels. I write short stories. So you can't possibly want to be a novel."

My story's response was pretty much just to sit there staring at me, daring me to try and figure out how fit it into a short story. I think this means I get to try writing a novel.

I'm afraid I can't offer any advice or assurances that it gets better, as I've never done this before, but I did want to thank you. Sitting in class today, thinking, "Oh, dear, this is alarming," at least I was able to comfort myself with, "Well, I'm not the only one, and if someone as awesome as Ben Rosenbaum is finding it frustrating then 'I'm not good enough yet' just doesn't seem like a very good excuse..."

Posted by: Em Tersoff at March 29, 2007 02:58 PM

Really don't worry about it. I always feel that way at that point in a novel. Just keep going and keep throwing random shit into it. You don't even have to think about how it's going to tie together for another 50k words. Or maybe in the next draft. Anyway, I reckon you'll find the ways it links together as you go on. I never know where a book's going or what it's really about at the beginning, and you're still at the beginning.

Posted by: Patrick Samphire at March 30, 2007 09:41 AM
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