Novel Writing: Lessons Learned

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I should, I told my son last night, make a list of everything I've learned this week about writing novels.

He nodded.  He was amenable.  He almost always is.  We'd been talking over dinner about how much this novel-in-progress of mine has changed, and about how frustrated I've been during the changing.  Frustrated, then illuminated.  Finally enlightened and set free.

For example, I have learned (re-learned, I learn the same things each time), that if you don't know what a story means, what it is beyond its plot and pacing, transitions will elude you.  Also:  without transitions you can't work plot, and without transitions you obliterate pacing.

In other news, the beginnings of most chapters that I write—those first five or six lines—are often unnecessary.  The same might be said for the lines that dangle from a chapter's end.  Half the dialogue I write can and should be tossed; keep the dialogue economical.  Don't let a story sag under its own weight; very few readers have the patience for tangents that don't, in the end, amplify or illustrate the heart of the story.

What else?  Oh.  Don't let anyone talk you out of your own music.  If you can't hear the story, if it stands still on a page, then inject it with long and shorts, pauses and near run-ons, until the song is again being sung.

In addition, this:  Don't give up.  I very nearly did this week and then I asked for a day of utter quiet.  Turned off the computer, didn't answer the phones, didn't bother worrying about dinner.  When something isn't working it's probably because you haven't had the space to figure it out.  Give yourself the space. 


Jeannine Atkins said...

So glad to hear this for your sake, and mine, too. The lantern you're waving at the end of that tunnel flashes a lot of hope.

Priya said...

Wonderful advice - thanks for sharing. :)

Lilian Nattel said...

I think "don't give up" is the most important!

Beth F said...

Space -- yes. That's when it's time to garden, walk, bake . . . anything that lets your mind run free. Then, suddenly, the solution comes! (at least from my side of the manuscript)

K. Harrington said...

Thanks for sharing your wonderful perspective!

Sarah Laurence said...

Excellent advice, thank you! I love your music metaphor.

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