Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Summer Novel Project: The idea II (Pre-Writing)

Sweet Robot Gods, have I had a tough time settling on an idea. It's not that I haven't had any ideas -- I sprout ideas like they be string beans in summer -- but figuring out which idea(s) would work as a novel length manuscript. Also, I have a fear of story commitment. I am so eclectic in my tastes as far as what I like to read and write that it's difficult for me to be pinned down by one idea for so long.

Now it's down to three days and I'm still struggling to settle on a single idea. I wanted to have the mofo outlined by now. The only chance I have of getting the outline done at all is if I settle on an idea tonight.

So that's what I'll be doing.

Sweet dreams.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My Summer Novel Project: The Idea (Pre-Writing)

This, without a doubt, is the most difficult part of the whole process. I’ve learned to write by means of the short story. When I generate an idea, I can readily tell how many words it’s going to take – 2000, 5000, 7000 – to tell the story. Short stories pop fully formed into my head, no pre-writing or outlining required. The hardest decision is which one to start first.

Now, though, I’m looking at writing something 10x the length of the longest story I’ve ever sold. How do you come up with that amount of content? Do you come up with 10 novelette ideas and mush them together? Do you increase the length of time that spans the story? Do you add more characters? Do you think more abstractly? Do you digress often?

I don’t really know. The nuclear pile that was my first novel was 85,000 words, but I hesitate to call it a “novel.” If I cut out all the extraneous bits – digressions, side plots, one-off POVs, et cetera – then I had a trope-ridden, cliché, thinly veiled “save the princess” story clocking in at 20,000 words. I knew I didn’t have enough content to sustain 85,000 words, so I just kept globbing on other storylines and characters. That’s how you write a novel, right?

In the intervening years, I’ve tried to undergo novel projects with varying degrees of un-success – 20k, 30k, 45k. These failed for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with the fact that I just didn’t understand my novel process. I think I have the hang of it now, though, and it requires a bit of pre-writing, most notably in the form of a good outline.

But to start outlining, I need an idea.

My normal idea generation process is this: *random thought pops into my head* “Hey that would make a good story.” *writes story* “Well that was fun.” If I’m really pressed for time and I need to artificially generate an idea, my normal method is: “Hey I’ve never written about X in Y. I should do that,” where in X = [event, character, and/or location] and Y = [one of my already established settings]. Sometimes I go a different route though. My brain thinks, “Hey, you’ve never written this subgenre yet.” And then I go, “Hay is for horses, brain, but you’re right.” And then we high-five and after a montage filled with writerly flexing, a story appears.

Sometimes, a whim just strikes me. For my failed novel, the whim was, “I want to write a young adult book with giant robots and dammit I don’t want to justify those big, beautiful bastards.” (I have a tendency to curse more in my YA fiction.) I still would love to write that novel, by the way, but I did not do nearly enough pre-writing work to be successful in that attempt. A whim can be a good place to start, but I’m starting to come to the realization that novel ideas are grown, they don’t just sprout fully formed like some form of viral bamboo.

So I’m trying to grow my idea in fast forward. I’m giving myself a day or two to get the idea and then all the background research, and then the world-building, and then the character-building, and then the outline. I have 19 days until go-time.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Summer Novel Project: An Overview

Back in April, I brought up the idea in both of my writing groups that maybe we should dedicate the summer to each writing a novel. They – however unwisely – agreed. So here’s the plan: from June 1st through August 31st, every one of us will write a novel. We already have alpha and beta critique schedules hammered out and now it’s just a matter of writing.

I’ve written one novel (working titles: Bullet Ballet, Godwing, Junkyard Kings, Kringe), and it was a complete failure. The protagonist was completely passive, shuttled along by external forces. The plot was thin and didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The style was inconsistent. The relationships were cliché.

But I wrote it to the end, and that was the most important thing. It’s been two years since I wrote that novel. I published quite a few short stories since that time, and have a novelette, my longest ever (successful) project, being published this year sometime. I’ve read a lot of books since then too, including a few very good ones on writing. I feel like I finally have the talent and drive to write a successful novel (taking into account that it will require many, many drafts).

I’m going to be posting little journal entries like this along the way (similar to my NaNoWriMo War Journal). The first one will be posted tomorrow, and go over my troubles with idea generation.

I hope you come along for the ride. It should be…interesting.