Anatomy of a Novel

I've gone quite a while without adding anything to my Ideas Word file. And that's fine with me.

It's easy to come up with a basic plotline for a book. It's harder still to write a complete synopsis of the same. But the hardest part by far is to actually write the book. Every phrase has to be scrutinized for cadence and flow. Every aspect of the plot has to come together. The reader has to understand certain background factors without feeling like they're on information overload or being preached or talked down to. Word overuse must be eliminated. All pressing loose ends have to be tied up by the end of the book.

In other words, writing is hard.

I am presently working on a project that I started outlining about five years ago. That's right, five years. I saw a news report that said that with all the layoffs elsewhere, the job market was thriving in the unlikely location of Bismarck, North Dakota. Right away my imagination went to work. Bismarck, North Dakota. I've never been there, but who among my readership has? With a low percentage of African-Americans among the population, I realized I'd never done a fish-out-of-water story, and here was the perfect scenario.

I quickly came up with a the hero and heroine (this is a romance) would meet. Since "meet cutes" are one of my strengths, I wrote an opening chapter and sent it to my personal editor, Kim. She loved it and bugged me for more. But I couldn't get beyond that because I had no real conflict, and without conflict there is no story. Anyone familiar with my work knows that I avoid the standard can't-ever-love-again-because-I-don't-want-to-be-hurt scenario, which in addition to being more common than rain in April, is staler than a four-day-old roll. If that's the best I can do, why bother to spend years developing a story in the first place? Why not just write the first dull, unimaginative plot that comes into my head?

Stuck on this--even Kim, a harsh taskmistriss, eventually let up on her demands to see more--I turned my attention to other projects in subsequent years, periodically pulling this one out and adding to it. I wanted to do a scene at a ski was North Dakota, right? Check. I wanted my heroine to be forced to spend the holidays with the hero's family rather than with her own, and I came up with a plot device--a natural-sounding one, of course--to make that happen. Check. I wanted plenty of sexual tension woven throughout the story. Double check. I even wrote a love scene so sizzling that I ended up waking my husband from a sound sleep at 3AM on a weeknight (and believe me, when he went back to sleep he had a smile on his face). I even had a wonderful title. But still no conflict.

As usual, I didn't worry about it. I remained confident that an idea would strike me eventually, even though it was taking years. Haven't I always maintained that no story will be written before its time? And, most important of all, didn't I have other projects that had no such issues?

Sure enough, one day a year ago it started to come together, after four years of germinating. I suddenly had my conflict. It just came to me out of nowhere. I added other layers to the story, and voila! It was done!

So now I'm writing, with the goal of trying to have this out by the end of this year at the latest. (I'll have to safeguard the title until just before release.) I've been writing up a storm, to the point where I had to take a few days off and rest my brain. It's moving along nicely, and unless an event arises that takes me away from writing or I realize that something about the plot doesn't work, I should meet my goal.

Patience. Persistence. And keep pounding those keys. It will come together.


Katrina Spencer said...

This is just what I needed to read as I start over with my book. If I keep pushing I'll get there. We both will.

bettye griffin said...

Push on, Katrina! And know that I'm just as optimistic about you as you are about me!