I completed the re-read of my first draft manuscript just this morning, and I am now ready to start editing and revising. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the core part of the story is surprisingly decent… not spectacular, not earth-shaking… but it floats. The manuscript has a fair number of leaks in it, and it takes on water much more than I prefer, but I’m pleasantly surprised by the overall cohesiveness of the story elements… they could be tighter though. I’m reading Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering which is giving me a lot of good advice on polishing the manuscript; I’m also reading James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self Editing, and finding that the two authors make similar cases for the same elements that are essential to making a story sing.
To say I started writing this novel in an uninformed state is probably well on target; I’ve read a fair number of books on authorship over the years, but the fact of the matter is none of them will ever actually tell you how to write a novel… not even the ones that propose to do so from the title… it’s just one of those things you have to sit down and do if you’re wiling and able. The best preparation for writing a novel, far and away over any “how-to” book, is reading — the more fiction you read, the better you will grasp the elements of storytelling that are essential to constructing your own story. Reading won’t necessarily make what you write good, but it will give you the map you need to understand intuitively if you are going to make an attempt at authorship. That’s what Brooks is saying in his book, and I believe it with all my heart… now I do, at least… maybe not at the outset… That is to say, the take away message from Brooks is that all of the elements in a successful piece of fiction are harmonious and build upon each other in such a way as to make the whole solid. What’s that old Aristotle adage? “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts,” I believe… That, boys and girls, is what we are shooting for when we write a novel.
I’ve read plenty of books in my lifetime, thus far, where the setting and description were excellent, but the characters were shit; or where everything in the story was well crafted, but the plot was thin as gossamer; and plenty where nothing seemed to be working… where, in fact, the elements seemed to be working against each other. I can’t name any of those books because, frankly, they were highly forgettable. I’ll admit right here and right now that I read for story; i.e., I read for the hope that all of the fiction elements will work together and I will be entertained so much I’ll regret having to put the book down. I studied literature, I got my degree in literature, but I don’t care for literary fiction. I’m not reading to discover how clever the author is, how keen his/her eye is when dissecting the human condition… I can find that all around me all the time, so I don’t read for that and I certainly don’t write like that. For me, the fiction elements must all be firing in the same sequence — that’s the prize in what I read, and hopefully in what I write.
I’m not impressed with myself in such a way as to suggest that I know definitively how to write a novel, but my experience suggests that this is what works for me. Before I started writing my novel I dissected a half dozen Urban Fantasy novels by different authors to get a grasp on the conventions of the sub-genre, and I’m glad I did because otherwise I would’ve been lost and without a map. So that’s my nickel advice: read in the genre you want to write so that you understand what the makings of a good story are in that particular style of fiction. Don’t be a wiener and copy someone else’s work, I think that should go without saying, but definitely draw inspiration from the authors you admire and work to figure out why you admire them; turn what you observe into a template and work from that, it might just get you through the first draft. Then begin to expand your knowledge and your scope, add to your toolbox, learn tricks from other authors in other genres… hell, just keep learning from any source you can find — the less limitations you put on yourself, the freer you will feel… honestly, I can’t think of many things better than not restraining your creative expression.
So now comes the fun part in my novel process: I’m going to send my manuscript out to my beta readers and work on editing and revision while I await their feedback. I have a month before NaNoWriMo to prepare for the next novel and to polish this manuscript, so I plan on staying pretty busy. Drop me a line if you have any questions — you can do so via the comments for this or any of the other postings.