Friday, July 22, 2005

Moving from novel to novel

I have finished Silky 2! Yay! This one took longer than I expected -- mostly because of person a life stuff -- but I'm happy with the reworking of the tale. I even have some very solid thoughts for the last book in the trilogy, which I really think it's about time to write. Though not right now. Just soon. Although 'soon' for me is probably not what other people think. It could be sometime in the next four or five years.

I have turned more of my attention to the background material for the next novel on my list. This one is Kat Among the Pigeons. I know a good amount of the 'who and what' but I'm still working out some of the 'why' parts. And 'how' -- the plot line -- is nebulous still, with hardly more than a few key points jotted down. As I learn more about the others I find that pieces of the story are dropping into place. I will probably take the last few days of this month and work on all the material. I think I'll write a few short stories as well. I've been rather lacking in those this year, and I love a quick writing adventure now and then!

However, I can't remember a time (at least after the age of 13) when I was not working on a novel. I start a new one every January 1 so that I get my year going right -- sort of a good omen and a lot of fun. I spend more time working on outlines and background material for upcoming novels than I do on writing short stories. I like short stories and I enjoy writing them, but over all I'd much rather be working on something more substantial.

Novel writing was my first love, and it still draws me in. I love the depth of novel writing, and the amount of research and worldbuilding that goes into developing a really good plot. Kat Among the Pigeons is one such story. Once I had a clear idea of whom my antagonist is, and what he wants, the amount of research I needed tripled -- but it's going to make this a much better story for taking that time and for doing the homework. It would have been far easier to just leap into the story at almost any point since the idea hit me, but this way I am far more assured of having something that holds up.

Stories aren't just about the characters, of course, but the characters had better be interesting enough to carry the plot and keep the attention of the reader. In this case I'm going to have an array of human and animal characters and a lot of conflicting personalities. I love this set and working out who they are has been a lot of fun. Since my main character can understand certain animals, those creatures are developing very specific and comedic voices. When I started telling Russ about one of the small birds with a very tough attitude, Russ suggested I call him Harlan. (grin) I think I'm going to call him Harley, in fact.

My antagonist is a historical figure. One of the great joys of having several thousand books at home (and about half of them nonfiction history) is that I was able to look up nearly all the information that I needed for him. The only problem I have is that I haven't sorted out my books and arranged them properly since Russ took his stuff to the second house and I spread out onto his shelves. I just pulled things from various places and shoved them into the shelves. I know I have a couple more books that will have pertinent information -- I know because I read them. Finding them.... eek.

I may have to take some time to arrange books just so I don't go nuts. It might be a nice change, in fact. Maybe I can even get some of the trim up on the bookshelves. Hmmmm..... Not that I really need something else to do, but the idea of physical work while letting my mind play with the story development at the same time could help out.

My mind hasn't quite moved fully from one project to the next. My projects are distinct pieces and it's not always easy to leap from one to the other, especially after working on a novel. Novels are not like short stories (duh): They have far more 'world' to live in and longer time spent with the characters. They take more time in the set up as well as in the writing and they linger even after I'm done.

If you're writing for yourself (which I do sometimes, just because it's fun), you needn't worry so much about the background working right, or the characters being fully fleshed before you leap into the work. However, if you are working on something that you hope to publish, the more work you put into the set up, the better the chances of creating something coherent and interesting, with characters who have depth and a storyline that pulls the reader along. Usually the best plots are the ones that have some amount of preplanning. It doesn't have to be an extensive scene by scene outline, but a few steps written out that will lead you from the first chapter to the last line can be helpful.

Doing the pre-work to a novel can take a lot of time. There's no reason to rush. Let your mind work on the story and the characters, and do whatever research you think you need. Planning ahead will allow you to make certain interesting things are going to happen to your characters and they are not going to just go wandering around clueless looking for trouble. Chances are that you'll end up researching more as you get into the novel, but getting the obvious stuff out of the way is helpful!

Not everyone works this way, obviously. And some do quite fine without much planning. But I've worked both ways and I know my weaknesses in this area. I know where not planning a novel and getting most of the background worked out ahead of time can lead. And I've seen a lot of new writers fall down and lose interest in their novels because they don't have enough information to keep them moving to the next step. Even if they finish, they often find that their characters have wandered around doing nothing of importance for large stretches, or they took off into storylines that could have been saved for another book.

Sometimes you just have to experiment to find out what works for you. However, the one thing I think is true -- it never hurts to know more than you need, even about your novel. (grin)


Valerie Comer said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one that has trouble shifting gears from one story to the next, even when I love them both. I don't want to let go of the first draft that I finished 12 days ago; I keep thinking of things to add or change, but I've kept the file closed. I'm trying really hard to focus on the new project (a revision).

Carter said...

I always snort when I think about Harlan using the "Cordwainer Bird" pseudonym.

With short stories, I don't have much trouble moving from one to the next. They're usually so different it's like coming up for air.

Novels, I don't yet know about. I have one started, and 2 more gestating, but I'm still so scared of the novel-writing process that I'm handcuffed most of the time. I think I need to sign up for the 2YN course, if you offer it again.