The Novelization Process
When my grandmother gave me a typewriter in the days of yore, I never thought of writing as a process. In fact, I never considered writing as an element in a process called authoring. Who would, until you've done it? I was always amazed by the authors who wrote complex stories; journeys to the ends of the earth, with hundreds of characters and locations and subplots, and still managed to see clear to a cogent, comprehensive work. How did all that genius spill out of quills into the world's libraries and collective imaginations? The answer I only discovered now, after authoring 3 epic works (with plenty left in the pipeline). In the doing is the learning. The PROCESS.
I also learned that every author develops their own process. These processes are all akin, but cleave to personal temperaments, craft proficiency, schedules and styles. Some are free form and flimsy. Others are nattered and painterly. All depend on one thing: dedication to writing daily.
process begins with several weeks (sometimes months) of thinking about
a subject. THE RULE BOOKS say: write it down or you'll forget it. Carry
a notepad around. That doesn't work for me. If a subject is forgotten,
it was forgettable. If it comes back a few times, its worthy of consideration.
There are many things the BOOKS say that I disregard, but what surprises
me is that many writers fail in their novelizations because they don't
really know what a novel is. My definition is: A Novel is a story that
starts in the author's imagination and takes seed in the reader's imagination,
germinating into a complete and satisfying experience-for both. Of course,
this definition depends on a corolary definition. What is a story? Well
here's what I've come to learn. A story is a reflection of character'
reactions and development to setting, organics and a series of events.
That covers all the main elements of a novel, but as a reflection it places
the one element that many writers omit-the reader's imagination and participation
in the realization of the piece. Many authors forget this. They chug out
a plot like the little engine that couldn't-cars filled with places and
characters, who are all aboard for the ride, but never are given the chance
to drive the train.
Once the subject is decided upon, I structure the overall contour of the work (happy, sad, flamboyant . . . protagonist does this, a character does that . . . there's a scene in such a place, a dark corner exploding with fire, a flood, a train chase . . . and so on). Nothing on paper! I mull this over while driving to work, or in bed at night, or in the shower, or daydreaming (hopefully not while driving).
Once the contour is formed, I nail the ending. All stories need a beginning, middle and end. I start with the end. Not the details of how the story is resolved. No one, not even I know that. That's up to my characters. I mean, the last scene . . . the one that leaves the most lasting impression on the reader. That complete, I nail the opening. This is trickier, because the opening must capture the reader's interest and suck them in, committing them to continue reading the work. It must also serve the work; that is, it shouldn't prostitute the work for the sake of a catchy opening sentence or paragraph. (It was a dark and stormy night!). None of that. Once that's settled, I start the BLUEPRINT.
I don't use outlines. Outlines are death to a novel. They tend to work out details long before they should be details. They tend to pigeonhole characters into behaviors they wouldn't take if they had their own way. Instead I use a Blueprint. I start with little love notes to myself (confidence builders, reasons for the work and what I want HERE-what I'd like THERE. Not the theme. Themes are grafted onto novels after the fact. Never let a novelist tell you he had a specific theme in mind at the start. Remember, Novelists are professional liars. I then follow my love notes with THE PITCH. This is three or four paragraphs dumping the contour, major plot items, character development suggestions and high points into a reference form. It's fun to compare this PITCH, after the fact, to the final work. They are always light years apart, but I think of it as the meristem. The flower can only blossom if a bud exists.
Next, I high-level (sketch) the first four or five chapters, followed by a paragraph or two of directions for the next stages of the work. The blueprint grows with the writing. It will change. I like to use strikethroughs for things I change, to both track my original thinking and watch it evolve. I don't know why I do this, but I do. To me it's not a working blueprint unless I can look backwards and forwards.
the first draft happens . . . (the road goes on, forever on . . . to be
I crack the work open for revision, I first read it OUTLOUD (reading aloud
is essential for pace, sound and sense), and make notes. These are structural
notes. I make a list of problem scenes and cuttable materials. I'm always
surprised at how the draft is less pleasing to me after these 7-10 weeks.
But I wear a different set of eyes now, and the toolbox that's out is
not the artist's, but the artisan's. The thousands of tricks, twists,
touches and rules that I hone as my craft now come into play-the subject
of this course. All those things like: cutting all adverbs, what motivates
character A to do that? The word smile is used 25 times in the spans of
5 pages. Yikes! The Soup-I can see it, touch it, taste it, but can I smell
it??? All the things I need to assure that the novel is a valid experience.
No, a great experience for the reader is accomplished in the 2nd revision.
Dialog, Descriptive, Narrative, and texture must all be brought into balance.
That's why I need to complete the work before revising it. You can't tell
what needs revising until the entire work is complete in draft. I also
pay attention to redundancy and overstatement (methinks she protests too
Edward C. Patterson