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I’ve been working on a novel for some time now and I expect it to be done in November or at least the second draft to be done in that time. The problem is that writing a novel is hard. A terrible fear grips me at some points during the day, mostly after an hour or so of editing the blasted thing. I may not be smart enough. I seriously fear this.
This is the easiest part. Sure it can be confusing, but I’ve got seven or eight reference guides to help me out if I really get stuck. It’s not like I haven’t spoken English before, though I’ll admit falling into all the bad American habits and having a great deal of difficultly naming the parts of a sentence (do I really need to know what a Determiner is? Pshaw!).
I rather like punctuation. There’s nothing more fun or entertaining than seeing how long I can make a sentence by stringing together words with semicolons, colons, and commas. But I have a dirty little secret: Where do I put commas? Before “but” and “which” right? Are there times I can leave them out? What about ellipses and dashes? Can I replace semicolons and commas with them?
My word processor has a punctuation check and said punctuation check is absolutely worthless. It will flag things that don’t need to be flagged and it delights in telling me I’m wrong. I can be typing away at full speed and I’ll see that little green line and I’ll be like, “Oh shit.” So I’ll stop and I’ll look at it and I’ll be like, “That stupid punctuation check just wasted my time. Oh no!”
Then there is the small question of style. The British have a few things they do differently and I like some of them better. An example of this is putting the period outside of quotation marks. For instance: Johnny got his “gun”. In America we would say: Johnny got his “gun.” I like the British way better because it makes more sense. The period is not part of the word that is inside the quotes, so shouldn’t I keep it on the outside except in cases of dialogue attribution?
Egad, what a pain in the ass. I’m a bad speller. Well, terrible really. So every word that I can’t spell I look up in the dictionary. One could argue that I could use my word processor for that, but I don’t trust it. It can’t even tell me that "convince store" is wrong. What do I buy there, Mr. Computer? What exactly?
I type relatively fast and so don’t catch myself typing “mater” when I mean “matter”. The computer can’t catch these either.
This is harder than you would think. It’s not just creating a person with a name and having them walk around. It’s a matter of making them convincing as real people. What makes this particularly frustrating is that during the second draft you realize that some of your characters don’t work or don’t seem real. If it is a minor character you can just edit them out or revise a little. If it is a major one you have to do some serious rewriting in every scene in which they occur. Just hope it isn’t the protagonist who is unconvincing.
Character motivation can be difficult too. Like when you’re half way through your second draft and you find a scene where your cute little innocent school girl is smoking and you’re like, “Where did that come from?” She doesn’t smoke. She’s a good girl! It doesn’t even make sense for her to be smoking!
Detail is the problem here. How much is enough and how much is too little? Do I want the reader to feel like I’m shoving their face in the sodden earth of the old witch’s hut and cramming the cow dung up their nose or should I just hang back a little? Should I describe every single bit of clover growing in the field and every cloud in the sky or should I simply say, “It was a green field and a pleasant day.”? I could easily overwhelm the reader and just as easily underwhelm him.
My darling little novel is written in the present tense. This wouldn’t be a problem but I’m used to writing and reading things in past tense. I can write “she says” forty million times and still say “while she read Chaucer”. I find this type of problem all the time in my revisions of the blasted thing and now that I’ve gotten used to writing in the present tense I find when I try to write in the passive tense I write “she says” instead of “she said” a hell of a lot.
Just minor things that quickly become a pain in the ass. Was the hero wearing a blue shirt or a red shirt in the last scene? Is the sink by the refrigerator or by the cabinets? Was Dr. Wallman smoking Marlboros or Camels behind the church? Or infinitely worse: Was that minor character’s name Jessica or Jennifer?
Sure I can go and flip back to the previous scene to see what was what and where it was, but generally after doing that seven or eight times I get tired of it. I start saying things like, “Why can’t I remember that pitiful little detail?”
Probably the most tedious thing I’ve ever done. I’ve written various novel length stories before (none of publishable quality though) and my process is a bit like this:
Second Draft: Rewrite first draft as a second draft. Complete with research on anything technical I may have added, clarify, and check for grammar and spelling errors. Rewrite any glaring plot holes and character flaws. Send to a few friends for reviewing and proof reading when it is presentable.
Third Draft: Polish up. Go through every single sentence (I’m not exaggerating) and check for any errors. Fix any problems that have gone undetected. Make sure all details are consistent and look for tense errors. Use the word processors search option to find problem words that I never seem to be able to fix.
Fourth Draft: One final reading. I will record myself reading the novel and then listen to the tape. If anything strikes me as wrong I will pause the tape and fix the problem.
Final Draft: More of an extension of the fourth draft. All I do is reformat it so that it is presentable to an editor. After that I’ll hopefully send it to a publishing company or to an agent so that I can send it to a publishing company. This last bit is only if I feel the story is good enough.
Show and Tell
Showing the novel to my friends will be the hardest part. I enjoy my friends for a single reason: They speak their mind. Thus I’m likely to get a truthful description of what they thought of my story. And if it sucks they will tell me. This creates a little nervousness on my part. It’s not like an E2node. The votes are anonymous and if folks don’t like a node eventually this guy named Klaproth will eat it and that’s fine because he needs to be fed occasionally. Klaproth is the best kind of teacher. But showing it to friends who may not like what I’ve worked on is nerve racking. I know these guys. I respect their opinions. I think xirho described this feeling best in his node on writing.
I believe my novel to be good, but at this stage it has a lot of problems. Fixing those problems will not be easy. It will be very hard. But all the effort will be worth it if I can get it published. It’s not about money, or seeing my name in print, it is about entertaining some kid while he waits in a doctor’s office or being with some sick veteran who’s dying of cancer.
That’s what I want; to entertain. To take a person far away from their normal reality so that they can experience something new, something they’ve never dreamt was possible. I just wish it wasn’t so hard.
(And by the by, anyone who has or ever will complete the Three Day Writing Contest
in a reasonably sane condition is an absolute badass.)