For some writers, the process of crafting a novel gets easier with each work.
Unfortunately, I’m not a member of that group.
Counting one that I tossed, three that are out of print and will stay that way, and five written with my husband, I just finished novel number 19 (No Substitute for Myth, to be released in June—or so I hope). Even though I knew the characters well because it’s the fourth in the series, and even though I had a clear idea of the plot, I struggled through the middle. Some of that struggle was due to elements I decided to add. Some was due to a feeling of being “held hostage” by my characters and wanting to be out of my office and living a life of my own.
In the previous substitute book, the beginning gave me fits. For number four, that was a cakewalk. Sometimes the ending is elusive, and sometimes I visualize the conclusion long before anything else.
Recently, while waiting for inspiration to deliver a perfect simile, I made a list of what I find most difficult about crafting a novel.
Getting an Idea. Because I’m afraid every idea will be the last, I treat a new one like the discovery of a rare plant. I record my “find” on a file card, post the card on a bulletin board, and then watch it, waiting for fresh shoots and leaves. Meanwhile, other ideas may be passing me by.
Plotting. The planning writers do is equivalent to that huge percentage of an iceberg beneath the surface. It supports your story. But the process of plot-building can be slow, and I’ve found that once characters interact, things can change. So, while I know how a book will start and how it will end, my plans for everything in between are often vague until I get there.
Crafting the Opening Sentences. Unless they come to me in a cheesy-snack-fueled dream, these are tough. So tough, in fact, that I often leave a blank space. When I reach the end, I have a better idea of how to plant the seeds of theme and plot on the first page.
Sitting. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the consequences of spending too much time on your ass-et.
Not Borrowing from Others. I don’t mean plagiarizing; I mean that unconscious shift toward a style or turn of phrase brought on by admiration for the skill of the author I’m reading at the time.
Making it Through the Middle. No matter how many file cards I’ve accumulated and how much plotting I’ve done, sometimes I feel like I’ve waded through a swamp only to step into quicksand. Often I have to go back to the beginning and work forward, reintroducing myself to characters I created weeks ago and have half-forgotten. The ending, like a mirage, seems to retreat before me.
Controlling the Snacking. When I’m stressed—and being stuck in figurative quicksand is stressful—I snack. (And I’m not talking about munching on baby carrots or apple slices.)
Taking Advice. Unless I’ve asked for it, I hate getting advice. And even when I’ve asked, I hate taking suggestions. So, when I’m deep enough in a quandary that I solicit ideas, I set them aside for a week while I work past a bout of I-should-have-seen-that resentment.
Ignoring Advice. I’m referring to the unsolicited and random suggestions that come from well-meaning folks who always wanted to write but never did. “You should write about my garden club and be sure to name all the members or someone will be mad.” “Don’t forget to give your protagonist a few cats.” “You should set your stories in Bermuda.”
The Ending. I think of an ending as the perfect meal—all the good stuff on the plate in portions that are just right. Not so much that servings and flavors run together. Not so little that I close the book feeling hungry. Just enough that I’m satisfied and want more from the same chef.
The title. Titles are tough because a few words have to do a lot of heavy lifting. In fact, they have to do so much lifting that I’m going to “save my strength” and save the topic for next month, when I’ll enlist writing coach Elizabeth Lyon to help me.
In the meantime, what do you think is the most difficult phase of writing a novel and why?
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton. She lives in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking. www.deadlyduomysteries.com http://www.deadlyduoduhblog.blogspot.com/