Tuesday, October 2, 2007

How do you write a novel? Simple. Line up your story like this...

I received an email yesterday from an aspiring author. He said he finds the process of writing a novel overwhelming (join the club). He said it's difficult to stay focused on the same story and the same set of characters and the same sub-plots for as long as it takes to write 400 pages (I couldn't agree more). He said "it's hard" and I nodded with sympathy. It is. It's very hard.

For close to a year, I've spent countless hours writing and editing and cutting and smoothing to make The Silver Compass come together and line up like a string of slick dominoes. Current day story must be supported by back story and back story must transition smoothly back into current day story. Secondary characters must move the plot forward, walk-ons are necessary but you can't have too many. Dialogue must be realistic. Scenes should have dramatic tension. Watch you POV shifts. Make readers care about your main character and his/her story. It'd also be good if you can make them laugh and/or cry at some point. Keep in mind, the first page sells the book, the last page sells the next book and on and on...

Yes, it is hard, but don't give up, because after it gets written and it all comes together, and it's been buffed and polished to a shine, there's no better feeling in the world. When I get that feeling, before I begin obsessing over changing 'just one more thing' that's when I quickly hand it over to production, dust off my hands and say, "It's just a book. There'll be many more." It's the only way I can stay sane doing this for a living.

24 comments:

Wendy Roberts said...

Holly, what a great inspiring post!

wordman17 said...

I'm tired AND invigorated.
Thanks for this.

It's just a book. There will be many more. It's just a book. There will be many more. It's just a book. There will be many more...

My new mantra!

Melissa Marsh said...

It's incredibly hard. I'm on my third novel and it hasn't gotten any easier! But I wouldn't want to do anything else.

Anita G said...

'Hand it over to production'.
Oh how I wish I could do that.
Hello there, production? Can you just slap this all together for me and hand me a real honest to goodness book?! I know it will happen. I'm confident.

P.S. thanks for answering my email last month re: agent advice. I've had two requests for FULL MANUSCRIPTS so production looks a lot closer than it used to

Heidi the Hick said...

Hi Holly!

It is hard to write a book!!! I've done it four times! It takes that long to get good at????? I'm looking forward to the day when I have the confidence to know when to stop poking at it and know when it's done.

I absolutely love it that you know it's not your last book and there are many more. You are a storyteller. This is what you're supposed to be doing. I'm glad you decided to take time now and then to dish out advice and guidance!

The Anti-Wife said...

Thanks for the great advice.

Travis Erwin said...

You said ... "It is. It's very hard."

But you do it so very well I can see why someone turned to you for advice.

Thanks for the inspiration and the reminder that it can be done.

Seeley deBorn said...

Yeah and then you have to write a synopsis and query letter.

Robert said...

Knowing the rules and applying them are such different animals, don'tcha think? I mean, I know what I'm supposed to do, but it's putting it on the page and making those rules morph into real words that rise above being an amatuer at it that's so #$&@$# hard!!

I was the one who emailed you last week. Txs for the reply. That you do is remarkable all by itself.

Janet said...

Plotting has got to be the biggest thing I discovered in finally tackling my first novel - and fear of it a large factor in making me put it off so long. Yes, it's hard. But it's also fun.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

My neighbor asked me tonight how I write a book. He just couldn't get his brain around the whole thing; it seemed so big and daunting to him.

The best I could do was "one word at a time." -- I really couldn't say more.

Anissa said...

You are an inspiration. :) And I'm glad mini-me (Ha!) is a hit. Somehow I take it personally, though we only share a name. I'm just a dork, I suppose. Can't wait to meet her officially. Now when is it coming out again?

Colleen said...

Linda Little, author of Strong Hollow and Scotch River, said you know when to call it quits when the thought of not writing is more welcoming than the struggle of writing. Otherwise, is there really a choice?

Great post. Thank you.

wanda said...

Found you via T.Erwin's blog.
Great post. Tell me it gets easier after you have a publishing contract. Does it?

Holly Kennedy said...

Wendy, nice to have you pop by.

Wordman, it's a good mantra, and not meant to minimize THE BOOK by the way, but to keep your head on straight so you don't become stupid over it.

Melissa, it's very rewarding, isn't it? I can't think of one other thing I'd rather do.

Anita G -- Congrats on getting two requests for full manuscripts. That's huge!

Holly Kennedy said...

Heidi, I don't think you ever stop learning and growing as a writer, which is good. I do, however, think you grow thicker skin as the years go by -- a good thing. Necessary, actually.

Anti-wife & Travis & Seeley -- Good to have you pop in for a visit!

Robert -- Hard or not, if you CAN'T NOT WRITE you were meant to. Keep your head up and push on.

Janet -- I hear you. Plotting isn't my favorite either. And then those darned sub-plots or 'threads' as I like to call them come into play. Argh!!
Keep working at it, though. I was where you were not so long ago and you can do this

Holly Kennedy said...

Susan Helene -- You've got it. I often have people say, "I've always wanted to write a book" and I never discourage them. I do, however, wonder if they know how difficult the process is before you even get to the business side where you need an agent, etc. But also rewarding. Incredibly so.

Anissa -- Your mini-me is a teenager. Keep that in mind. But she does have character in her secondary part. The Silver Compass will be out April 1st of 2008, in six months, and then you can officially meet her.

Holly Kennedy said...

Colleen -- Little Little hit it dead on. There are times when you start to hate what you're writing. I think you've spent so much time with it, you get sick of the story, the characters, etc. BUT when it comes out, you fall in love with the elements that drew you to that particular story in the first place.

Wanda -- Sorry. I wish I could, but it isn't easier when you have a contract. Your problems just shift and change, that's all.
Still, it's a great career, at least for me. I love what I do!

Holly Kennedy said...

Colleen -- Long writing night.
I MEANT Linda Little, of course!

Demon Hunter said...

Great post, Holly! That's right! Never give up! :*)

spyscribbler said...

So very true! God, is it hard. I'm definitely at a hard part right now.

Andy Scontras said...

Aloha Holly,

True words, those.

. . . but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Glad to see you've come out of your rabbit hole -- I'm still in mine!
:-)
Andy

Larramie said...

Your "just a book" = a labor of love.

ORION said...

I really like this post- Ultimately writing a book is NOT rocket science. No lives will be saved. It's not a vaccine. Saying it's "just a book" is not saying it's a waste of time but that you -at some point- HAVE to move on...
I love it!