Friday, April 10, 2009

Building a Novel

I’ve begun writing my third novel. Actually, to be more accurate, I’ve begun sketching it. The writing comes later.

I wish I could sit down and simply write it straight through, letting it come together in flashes of insight and creativity as I type. Nuh uh. That’s not how it works – at least not for me.

When I constructed “Fast Track,” my first novel, I used a blueprint set forth in “The Weekend Novelist” written by Robert Ray. For my second novel, “Bluff,” due to be published later this year, I used as a guide Ray’s “The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery.” Both of Robert Ray’s books are practical and helpful and I highly recommend them. (You can find them easily on Amazon.)

For Book Three (still untitled), I’m trying to come up with my own plan. Here’s where things stand right now in the creative process:

It began several years ago when I first got the idea. It started with just one character and his situation. (Not gonna go into detail about the substance – this entry is about process). For years, the idea merely banged around in the back of my head. It wasn’t until about a month ago that I began to write down my thoughts in a document I cleverly titled “Initial Thoughts.”

In my “initial thoughts” document, I just started typing up my thinking about the story in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way. I guess you could call it thinking out loud with your fingers. That document includes rough ideas about plot, characters, and settings. My goal is to mine my mind to find out what the story is about and how it will be structured.

I’ve also created a “scenes” document. This began with the six key scenes that comprise a well-structured story (an opening hook, pivot point #1, midpoint, pivot-point #2, climax, and the wrap-up). At this stage, I’ve made decisions about how I want the story to begin, and two key plot twists to get me to the midpoint. That’s when things get hazy.

Garry Dinnerman, my screenplay agent, gave me some sage advice recently that applies to novel writing, as well: “When you get stuck, figure out how you want it to end and work backwards from there.” So that’s what I’m doing now: I know how I think the book should end, I just need to figure out how to make it happen.

One key bit of insight I’m getting as I build the book is the dynamic relationship between character and plot. I’m discovering that character affects plot and vice versa.

Sometimes, in my writing session, I sketch a character. Other times I’ll think about plot. This is where my journalism training is helpful because I follow my curiosity by simply asking questions to get to know the character or situation better. (Anyone who knows me knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of my inquisitions – you have my deepest sympathy and apologies, plus the warning that I’m not likely to mend my ways anytime soon.)

The better I get to know a character, the more likely it is that some bit of plot action will emerge. And, as I think about what should happen in one of those key scenes, the reporter in me begins to “work the story” by asking the basic journalistic questions: Who? Where? What? When? Why? How? Answering those questions fills in plot details and also can yield new characters. It goes back and forth.

The more I sketch the story, the more eager I am to begin writing. That’s a good sign. But I’m not there yet. I’ll know I’m ready to write when the urge becomes overpowering. That will be when I can see the sketch whole. The big picture will still be missing lots of details, but I’ll be able to fill those in during the writing of the first draft and then add embellishments during the revision process.

So, that’s where I am and that’s where I’m going. Watch for future updates on the journey. Your comments or suggestions are most welcome.

You can also find me on Facebook and on (

No comments: