On Writing: Starting a Novel

Originally posted in www.rapier57.com, July 2013.

I am no Stephen King, but I’m settling into a pattern for how I approach writing. The last National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo 2012) helped me organize my approach and set goals. The important thing is to get the story written and not stop until you are done. Then, you can go back, rewrite, edit, correct, add, delete–whatever is necessary to polish and prepare the story for others.

The starting point, though, is tough. I try to do the same thing with short stories that I do with a novel. I try to come up with a sentence or paragraph that names the main character and the situation. The novel for NaNoWriMo started out with a paragraph like this:

“Something went jiggy with reality and God chose Paul to fix it. An enigmatic coyote seemed linked to strange events, and a strange man appears periodically to prod Paul along. Trolls, samurai, extraterrestrials and creeping black fog are just some of the things Paul must face and deal with on a 2,000 mile trek to save a world he’s not sure is worth the effort.”

I had no idea how I would cram all that into a novel with a 14-year-old as the protagonist. But, I did it. Now, this first paragraph didn’t completely or accurately describe the whole novel, since things I did not expect happened along the way.

You’ve probably heard or read authors who say that once they get started, the characters kind of take over the writing. Well, yeah, that kind of sums up what happened. The main character, Paul, because of who he was and what he had to do, determined how some things went. My main role was to type like a madman and keep asking, “what happens next?” when each scene or segment closed. Keep in mind this is a Christian, young adult novel, and it doesn’t focus on conversion, but mission (not a common theme in Christian fiction).

I set up a proposal, summary and sample chapters and am submitting it around now. Again, the work and lessons from NaNoWriMo helped me here, because I have a well planned and executed work and it makes the marketing much easier. If you’re an editor or agent reading this, drop me a note if interested.

I’m starting a new novel with the following blurb:

“Rob is a gladiator in a virtual reality game and must fight to the death whoever he meets there. In the VR, your wounds heal quickly or with the help of an elixir. But, if you die in the VR, you die in real life. He is 14 and has known no other life.”

I outlined the first few chapters and I’ll be starting the first scene soon. This will also be a Christian, young adult novel. I seem to have found an inner voice in the 14-year-old. It will focus on conversion and redemption, but I still do not know just how that is going to happen. I think Rob (Robin Smith) will lead that charge. This is one of the more complete character sketches I’ve ever done. So, I have a feeling the character will drive the story.

I’m taking the lessons learned from NaNoWriMo and applying them. I probably won’t get this done in a month, as with the last one. I am planning to set a schedule and daily word count goal so I get it done. My tools are helping. I use NeO (by d-light) for outlining, Scapple (by Literature and Latte) for brainstorming, and Scrivener (again Literature and Latte)  for doing the writing.

Goalsetting is not too difficult. Consider your typing speed. I can type about 70 words per minute. That is about 4,200 words per hour. Okay, the reality is that I’d be lucky to get 4,200 words of decent writing in a day, much less an hour. But, if I set a realistic goal of 2,000 words per day, and block out time to write, I can complete a 60,000 word rough draft in 30 days of writing. I do have a life, wife and grandkids, so I’ll give myself until the end of August to complete the first draft. I may beat that self-set goal and that is fine. We’ll see how it goes.

So (with apologies to William Shakespeare), once more into the breach!