Friday, 25 November 2011

Loving The Bones

My novel is going well and that's thanks to the helpful advice from the last post. Thank you! I decided to start afresh and have now completed nearly 17,000 words. I do like this one and itch to get back to it whenever I finish for the day. It's flowing better and the characters are fleshier. I can actually see them and have got to know most of them. I still have moments of horrible doubt and think the entire thing is foolish and pretentious. But then I try to remember that it's still me writing. And I'm quite capable of being foolish and pretentious. So, just as with the short stories, if I don't like what I've written and feel it isn't adding to the telling of the tale or developing the characters, then it has to go.
The hard part of writing a novel is that if I keep going back to make changes, I don't make much progress. So I'll keep pressing on to get the first draft down. And then I can revisit it and start waving my green pen around. All I do now when I begin a session is re-read the last couple of paragraphs and make a few amendments that would, if left, keep bothering me too much. Then I move on, reassuring myself that this is only the bare bones and it's inevitable that they will be a bit clunky and clattery. But I need them before I pack in all the fat and meat and juicy bits. Did I say I have a fixation with butchers? They are in quite a few of my stories and there's one in my novel too.
Anyway, thank you from the heart for helping me make my mind up. The short stories are still coming out too. There's one in this week's People's Friend and Woman's Weekly Fiction Special. I love writing them and will never stop, but managed to spend two whole days this week on the novel, just to prise it off the starting blocks.
I get up early at the weekends now and write in my pyjamas. It's not a pretty sight, but a lovely peaceful time to write before the day starts. It's surprising how many words I can achieve on a quiet Saturday and Sunday. And the virtuous feeling afterwards makes it even more worthwhile.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


I've had a much better, clearer idea for the novel. Well, more than an idea. It's a whole picture. There's a setting which is far less vague than the current one and more defined characters. Also, fewer of them. It has a darker side, which I usually enjoy. It still has secrets too.

Shall I leave the current one at nearly 6,000 words, set it aside, and start the exciting new one, which I am seriously burning to do? Or am I in danger of becoming a serial novel-starter? I am scared I will keep changing my mind and not finishing.

I remember when I sat exams with a choice of questions, we were advised to pick one after a few minutes of careful thought and then stick to it. Never go back and change your mind, they said, as it would waste time and you would never concentrate properly for thinking about the abandoned work and whether you'd made the right decision.

I have taken two days off from the novel to concentrate on a short story and let my mind wander over the new idea. Tomorrow I must either start it or continue the with the first one. I can't wait to find out which I choose...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Hoping For More Than Potatoes

Well, the novel is chugging along quite well. I have managed over 4,000 words and feel a lot better now than I did on the second and third days, when I had too many ideas and was trying to make it too complicated. I was so aware this was different from a short story, ie, a lot longer, that I was guilty of cramming far too much in. I was thinking of twists and turns that the characters were not ready for. As if I were trying to suggest a new-born baby write a Haiku.

One piece of advice applicable to short stories is valid for novels too. And that is to let the characters develop first and that will allow them to dictate the plot. Mine are already beginning to show me what should naturally evolve, rather than me deciding in advance without actually knowing them. After all, I can't expect to grow a sunflower from a tulip bulb. I have already changed the potential relationships between the characters a few times and feel very pleased when I reach that moment when light dawns and you think,"Oh, of course that's what happens!"

If I keep going at this pace, I shall finish the first draft in four months. That sounds like a long time when patience isn't one of my virtues, but now I've started, I really want to know what happens next.

In a previous post, I mentioned a story that changed setting from a hospital to a party in a railway canteen. I was pleased to have that one accepted by Woman's Weekly, particularly because it proved that making a drastic alteration is sometimes just what is needed. I'm glad I didn't abandon the first draft and start again. The basic story, the journey the characters had embarked on, was working for me. But they required a new direction. It felt daunting. I worried that I was veering off-course. But the final destination made it all worthwhile. So sometimes it can pay to make in-roads into unknown territory. You never know what the rewards might be.

I am still working hard on the short stories. I couldn't imagine being without them. But it is fun to have a novel to turn to as well. It feels very different from the short fiction. It's like a long soak in a bath. The short stories pour out like a quick shower; intense, invigorating and no waiting while the taps run.

When I feel unsure about what a character might do next, either in the stories or the novel, I imagine putting him into an extreme situation. I might blindfold him and make him teeter on the edge of a cliff. Or strap him to the wing of a plane and send him thousands of feet up in the air. Or offer him a million ponds to eat a raw elephant with a spoon. I imagine what he'll say, do, think, feel. Whether he will scream or try reasoning with me. What facial expression he will pull. Might he laugh? Cry? Distract me with words? Dance the hornpipe? It is quite useful. Also amusing. And it isn't the sort of thing you often have the opportunity to do in real life.

I wrote a novel a few years ago that I know is bad. It has its moments, but it is still bad. It is under the wardrobe, coated in fluff thick enough to be a small blanket. Or a bed for growing bad potatoes. I hope my new novel will be worthier and not have to be hidden away. And even if that's all it becomes, simply less dusty, less potatoey, then that's good enough for me.