Friday, October 11, 2013

The difference between a great idea and a NOVEL

I’ve discovered that I have this time-consuming habit of being trapped between two stories and struggling (sometimes for months) to figure out which one is the beginning of the actual book I should be writing. It’s not pretty. I wish my brain worked IN SOME OTHER WAY. But it doesn’t. Maybe it can’t. All I can say at this point is that I’ve begun to learn how to listen to the warring factions of my creative brain and I have realized something.

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GREAT CHARACTER OR CONCEPT and the START OF A NOVEL. At the beginning, they may feel the same but they are NOT.
When it’s just a flashy idea, it can start with some cool lines, maybe the vision of a character or a great WHAT IF notion. However, as time progresses, you feel resistance. Maybe you’re wrestling with form or point-of-view. Maybe the plot feels overworked or you dread the thought of the research you’ll have to do to make it feel real. Time passes and the word count goes up and then DOWN and then up and then DOWN AGAIN. You WANT to see the book through but somewhere in your gut is this sense of dread each time you face the computer.

When it’s a BOOK, maybe it starts with a great scene or the voice of an interesting character, but then, as you mull and write and eat a bunch of junk food, the story begins to wash over you. Driving carpool, you suddenly realize that the supporting character has a complex relationship with his dad and older brother. Putting on your mascara, you see how to resolve a challenging plot issue by changing the WHO of an action. The story structure feels like it’s settling into place. The “AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS” strategy IS WORKING! It is still as grueling, sometimes requiring discipline you’re not sure you’ve got but you know that THE STORY IS THERE.
Sometimes, you actually like the IDEA better than the BOOK for a while. Or it’s just hard to abandon the curious character you’ve been writing about, even if s/he is going nowhere emotionally, or plot-wise.

HAVE COURAGE. Close the file. Write THE BOOK!

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