Writing a novel and producing a book are different processes. It’s more than just semantics. The story telling is a labor of love. It’s about the tale, the creativity and about getting it on paper. The book process is mechanics. Editing, formatting, layouts. Many writers struggle with their novel because the book process invades the story process. Audience Creep is one such aspect of invasion. It’s when the writer begins to shift her focus from the story to “what people will think” of the story. Suddenly the tale is not good enough or doesn’t have enough or this or has too much of that. Those kinds of thoughts are passion killers. It’s like going on a first date thinking about marriage…you are way ahead of yourself…it’s just dinner.
Another way to think of the process is the difference between taking care of a baby (or puppy) and raising a child (or dog). Babies are easy – hold them, love them, feed them, keep them warm. Raising kids is more difficult – teaching, preaching, manners, their future, their education and so forth. You don’t try to potty train an infant so don’t try it with your story…until it’s ready…and that comes later. Trust me, if babies started out as teens birth rates would be a lot lower.
So just write your story. The story you want to tell. Get all those words and things on paper and then later spend time grooming and shaping its future. If you try to shift between the creative story telling process and the rational book building process you’ll find yourself hating the story. Like a sarcastic know-it-all teen you’ll be cursing yourself for even starting the darn thing. Wiring has a lot to do with it. Your brain just doesn’t like shifting between emotion and logic.
The human brain has a crazy sense of organization. It has sections for functions but it tends to throw information around the figurative room. It does however have an exceptional retrieval system. So storage is messy, but retrieval is genius. Your organic operating system also separates the creative and rational functions. Left brain and right brain activities are well-defined. Trying to be both creative and logical is a difficult if not impossible task. Passion and emotions are one form of the decision making process and logic and reason are another. Women have thousands of more connections between the two brain hemispheres than men do. This is why a female can make both an emotional and rational argument during the same discussion. Men have to choose a side. Regardless, there is no reason to muddy the writing waters by taxing your brain with competing tasks.
Passion is not a logical process. It doesn’t consider outcomes, return on investment, opinions or many of the details the rational mind likes to analyze. For many years I didn’t have a passion to write a novel. Not for a lack of ideas, but because I kept getting caught up in the book process. Things like length and character development and plot lines and mechanics made the idea of a novel seem daunting. I stuck with short stories. There were no real rules of length, I could take it anywhere I wished and they were fun. Short stories were just written story-telling.
In 2000, I had this very interesting dream. I decided that it could make a really good novel. I wanted it to be a crime novel although in truth it was more about psychology than crime solving. I tried to develop a character that would be a good detective. I wound up with some of the best purple prose I’ve ever written. It was also filled with these great clichéd characters. I have a passion for horror and I was trying to write a detective story. I was trying to write a novel instead of just telling the story and nothing flowed. I still have the file because something in it is worth saving, although I don’t know what that is yet. Those waking moments held some passion for that story – I just haven’t discovered the real story. The lesson is that passion moves us. Without it we’re just putting words on paper.
In the “book business” there is sound advice that suggests we should write the stories that people want to read. Surprisingly or not so surprisingly, the books that make the “current” list did so because they captured something either new or in a unique way. The author had a passion for the story and in telling it, she conveyed her love and we do became infected with her story passion. Prior to 1999, there was no real market for children’s books and certainly adults weren’t reading them. A few years later, young and old alike were in love with witches and wizards. In 2004, no one was talking about vampire novels unless it’s Bram Stoker’s. By 2005, the new vampires (love ‘em or hate ‘em) are all the rage. Following the success of Harry Potter and Twilight, there are a slew of YA novels in agents hands and on the book shelves. But both of these novels started a trend not because the authors desired fame, but because they loved their stories and their characters – they had a passion to write these tales – they wanted to share them with the rest of us – nothing short of that will ever be worth reading. Without the passion, we will only deliver a cheap, empty version of the original. It’s like homemade cookies. The secret ingredient is love.
I am not Stephanie Myers or JK Rowling. My Creepers Saga sits in a bloated market of Zombie-like novels in a very small market-share called horror/Sci-Fi. I am a better writer than Ms Myers, but not as good a story teller as Ms. Rowling. I haven’t spent anytime looking for an agent. I would need at least a $300,000 advance to quit my career. None of those facts and thoughts have any impact on my story telling. I didn’t know I was writing a novel. I simply started a story and posted each section on my website. What drove the story was not a plan to “publish” but a passion to tell the story. I love the Creepers Saga, I love the characters in the story, I love examining love, loyalty, hope, and sacrifice. And because of all those things, I wrote the first 90,000 words in six months. By accident, I discovered that writing a great story -even a novel length one – was a lot of fun and a fairly easy process…
…and then I hit the wall in book two.
After months of the book business which included cover art, edits, developmental edits, structure, layout, back of the book, search terms, uploads (Yawn), my rational brain was in full control of my beloved story. In the winter of the following year I sat down to write book two. It was a slow, painful start. I had a book audience. They didn’t fit into any single demographic. My youngest reader was twelve and my eldest was eighty. Some of them I know, most I don’t. I was plagued with self-inflicted expectations and concern on how to start the book. I struggled to get back in touch with my characters. To find them where I’d left them when they spoke to me quicker than I could type. I spent a few weeks poking around the keyboard afraid I couldn’t do it again.
Finally I said, “screw it” and began to type away at chapter one. I shrugged off the obvious weaknesses and moved on to chapter two. By the end of that second chapter my characters were speaking again. All the good stuff came back, the music flowed and the 2nd book went quicker than the first. I finished in three months and it is a better story than the first. When I went back to chapter one the rewrite was easy. Upon reflection I couldn’t understand what had been so difficult. The answer is of course that I was trying to “write book two” instead of just telling the next part of the story. As I have said, that’s not just semantics, it is so much more because it is everything.
Your story is yours until you give it to the world. There are no rules except the ones you create. There are no “shoulds” or “must-haves” because of your chosen genre. Write the story you want to tell, the one that you have a passion for and forget about typing the book that will be a best-seller. You just can’t fake a great story.
1. What is the story you want to tell?
2. What emotions are at the heart of this tale?
3. What are these big things you want to convey to the world?
The answers to these questions suggest the differences between a plot line and a great story. If you can answer question 1, but not 2 and 3, you may be working on someone else’s idea or you may be trying to tell the wrong story. At the heart of your passion is a bigger theme. That theme is what drives you and your characters. It is the difference between “zombies rise up and survivors try to survive” and “what is the cost of love and loyalty in a dead word?”
We are writers. We have big things that we contemplate. We like to examine those things with our words. We find our answers alongside our readers. We discover more than just plot in our work, we discover meaning. Meaning drives our lives and they should drive the worlds we create. Most importantly they make the writing and the journey fun. If we wanted a straightforward examination we’d write text books and essays. In fiction, these meanings are shadows of texture and new levels where we hide…
Categories: Right the Novel!