Beginning A Novel: A different take on the subject
August 21st, 2012
Just came across this post by Justine Larbalestier, whom you may recognize as the author of LIAR and the MAGIC OR MADNESS* trilogy.
So, in recent posts, I was really talking about the craft involved in beginning a novel, right? In her post, Larbalestier is talking about the impact of, I dunno, personality? Personal quirks? At least, individual variability in the way a particular author approaches a brand new book.
“For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.
And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.”
And this is all very interesting to me, because — and this is the point I want to make, right here — this is SO DIFFERENT from the way I feel when I’m starting a new novel.
I love beginning a new novel! It flows! It sings! It writes itself! The protagonist walks onto the stage and does things and says things! The world builds itself around the protagonist! All of this deserves that clutter of exclamation points because it is just as easy as I am making it sound!
Most of the time, I barely revise the first pages. Lots of the time, I barely revise the first chapters. That part nearly always works just fine, it only gets polished a bit and then a bit more, but it seldom changes much. (I can think of one exception at the moment, where I went back and added a whole ‘nother chapter on the front of a finished book. But even there the first first chapter didn’t change much, it just got turned into the second chapter.)
Where I bog down, ten times out of ten, is the middle. Especially the early-middle part of the middle. Then it usually (not quite always) gets easy and fun again toward the end.
I thought I’d mention this just because, well, I know you are all aware that everyone is different. But sometimes it is a good idea to really make that point clear. Just to be sure that no one thinks they must be doing it wrong if [Insert Author] says they write this particular way but that’s not how you write. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever that every successful writer does or feels. Except put a lot of words in a row at some point, of course.
Larbalestier also says:
“Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I . . . have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.”
There we can agree. I have currently five — wait, six — novel beginnings of forty to seventy pages each sitting around. And just like Larbalestier, I sometimes have a really hard time choosing one to work on.
Anyway, just found that post interesting! So there you go.
* By the way, this is the only YA fantasy series I’ve ever read where magic seems to be intrinsically, unavoidably, a bad thing. Bad for you if you practice it. Bad for it if you have it but don’t use it. It really is a choice between magic and madness — either you use magic and die young or don’t use it and go mad, I think those were the choices. Not 100% sure, it’s been a while since I read the series, but definitely two bad choices, no good choice. Magic was definitely bad bad bad. Anybody else know of a magic system where the magic is intrinsically a bad thing? In YA?
Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 21st, 2012