Monday, May 9, 2011

Novels Are Hard

I wouldn't call myself a "novelist." For one thing, it's one of those words of which I have an irrational dislike. I picture novelists sitting around in damask lounges where I'm not allowed, smoking tiny cigarettes, wobbling their big brains at each other and speaking about Humanity without separating their teeth.

Probably a novelist.
But in the last few years, I've transitioned from writing plays to writing novels, and I have written 2 3/4 novels so far, which is about 2 1/4 more than most people, and considerably fewer than Terry Pratchett.

Unless you are Stephen Hawking, this man is smarter than both of us put together.
(Haha, I just pictured Stephen Hawking reading my blog.)
He would love it.
Anyway, the way you write a novel is you think of a character and then you have your character do something, usually while whining about it, for about two hundred pages. If you want to write a young adult novel, which is what I do, you do the same thing, except . . . well, you just kind of do the same thing. I don't know.

The thing is, what many critically-acclaimed novels have in common is that they "make sense." This is where I'm having trouble with my 3/4 novel right now. Oh, it was off to a great start. It was humming along. And then I reached the 3/4 mark, and something was wrong. Let me explain it using word puzzles.

I enjoy word puzzles. I get those variety packs with all the different kinds. Here's one I did this week, called "Simon Says." The idea is you write the phrase they tell you to, and then there are step by step instructions on how to change it a little at a time, and at the end, surprise! There's a different phrase there!

Here's the beginning:

So far, so good. Looks like we're on our way to turning "Spring Training" into "All Star Game," which is what happened about halfway through. But "All Star Game" was just a little divertissement in the middle. The real finale was to be "World Series," revealed at Step 18.

Only something went horribly, horribly wrong.

Here is my Step 18:

That's right. "LDORDWSURIFJ." This is not a case of "BORLD SERIES." This is a major issue. Something effed up went down somewhere, and I have no idea what it was. It could be one rogue letter, or an entire step missing, or I could have read one of the directions wrong. Anything. And from that moment, little things began to fall subtly out of place until the snowball effect reached its terrible pinnacle at Step 18.

That's what happens with novels sometimes. They say if your ending is wrong, it's not really your ending that's wrong, and that's probably true. But the gentle musing over whether a different angle or lighting might make your denoument more effective is completely different from the sickening feeling that arises from getting to the top of your dramatic arc to realize your story is running naked through the woods like a lunatic. At that point, there's nothing to do but go back and pick everything apart to find the rogue letter that will set it all right again.

As I sit here quietly weeping over my 3/4 novel, my only solace is that, probably, other writers have faced this kind of thing before. And maybe they didn't even have blogs. Maybe they just had to write whiny little notes on their parchment or whatever: Novels are hard.

Plays are hard, too.


  1. But if it weren't hard (at least a little) from where would the challenge of the doing and the euphoria of the finish come? (note my NOT ending the above question with a preposition! -- that's the English Major in me)

  2. Hm . . . Nachos? I'm going to say nachos.

    That's a lovely non-preposition-ending sentence.

  3. Oh my goodness, yes! I had a major LDORDWSURIFJ moment with (the novel that I thought was going to be) my creative thesis. And there is no cure, except going back and trying again--in my case, from the beginning of the damn thing.

    The other option is chucking it all (temporarily or permanently) and writing another story instead, which is what I ended up doing. But you better bet I am treading VERY carefully, keeping my story close to me as we wander through the woods so it doesn't tear off its clothes and run away before I can catch it.

  4. Caroline, I think the term "LDORDWSURIFJ Moment" needs to become standard writing jargon -- the point in a draft when you realize everything is circling the drain. We just have to decide how to pronounce it.

    Also, I think the temporary chucking can be good. You get space, and at the end of it all, you have TWO novels!

  5. ah, but adi, you did get the right answer, you merely didn't recognize that LDORDWSURIFJ is how you say "world series" in nowegian.

    unless, of course, you meant EFFING LDORDWSURIFJ who, you may recall, was the elvish king whose saga was recorded on a 15th century tapestry along with the original rules of battle that have since been discovered to be an explanation of the designated hitter rule.

  6. Love this, Adi. Novels are hard. LDORDWSURIFJ says it all. I might pronounce that as "Lord Wind Surf" btw, but I'm taking liberties.
    Abby Aguirre

  7. Maybe the problem is all these word puzzles you're doing instead of working on the novel. Of course, I'm not a novelist or an English major, so I could be mistaken here.

  8. David, you are made of awesome. (But I knew that!)

    Abby, you've hit on something . . . Lord Wind Surf! (Lord Windsurf?) "Man, Lord Windsurf is really screwing with my WIP," "Lord Windsurf is visiting today," etc. Brill! I bet he's really fancy looking.

    Steve, you may be right. (Although I do tend to do my word puzzles in the bathtub, where my laptop wouldn't be very happy.)