Where am I Going, Where Have I Been? (Updates and Novel Ideas)

Sorry, been away for too long. Let me explain. No, there’s too much. Let me sum up.

My first novel The Sugarmaker’s Son, in progress for five years, is currently on the market with agents. So far the query letter and partials have been getting reasonably positive responses. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more at this point. Suffice to say, if a contract is signed or check cut, I’ll announce it here first.

Want a preview of the novel? “Heartwood,” a short story excerpted from the novel will appear in WragInk’s Philly Anthology along with several emerging area writers. Be sure to pick up a copy in January.

While I’m waiting on word about the first I’ve begun working on my second novel. This will be very different than my first book, but not so much a reader wouldn’t make the leap. Anyway, no sequel here. I can say even less about this novel than the first, alas.

Writing Process Progress

I can say that I expect the first draft will take much less time though. When I first tried to write The Sugarmaker’s Son, I was enrolled in a novel workshop at Rosemont College. Never wrote a novel before the class and the best plan I had was to write a novel based on a short story. My synopsis and outline were abandoned fairly early; I finished it through sheer will. Most of the characters I hadn’t defined yet; several of the plot points were vague, not at all connected. I was terrified that I would run out of material and desperately worked to keep the story afloat.

The second draft, on the other hand, was much worse. A lot of tweaks; more questions of plot and characters answered, but the plot went wildly off track. The outline was almost like a different book. I kept a list of plot threads and keep writing to resolve them as the story moved ahead, on intuition. Not a recommended approach. So frustrating to reach a point when you have a lot of writing (like a slab of clay) and not know what to do with it.

For the third draft, I had begun to lose track of what had been written, what was good or bad, what I wanted to keep or ditch. So I took the story down to the framework and created a five-page synopsis (I call it a treatment) of the book, accounting for the pieces from the two drafts I thought worked. More than a third of the story I’d still have to write from scratch. After that was solid, resolving almost all of the questions I had avoided through two drafts, I created an outline of each chapter. By making a very thorough synopsis I had settled the overall story in my mind before starting again, ensuring I didn’t go too far off the path. And when I did, it was because my mind was filling in a new, useful idea.

So far, I’ve finished a synopsis of the second novel and keep refining it. There are a few points I still need to work out, but I’ve avoided beginning the first chapter until I’m happy with the synopsis and the outline. And that has been a struggle: it feels so ready in my mind.

This process, though, will save time and effort. Instead of the fear of writing a novel I felt in the first draft or the frustration of the second, I can see the story and know there area lot of fun chapters ahead. And, as an author, that’s a darn good feeling.

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2 thoughts on “Where am I Going, Where Have I Been? (Updates and Novel Ideas)

  1. David Haskell (@DDHaskell) says:

    Good piece, lots of interesting advice. I especially appreciate how you brought everything together on your third attempt by starting with a bare bones framework and built it up from there. It’s a good approach and I’m considering trying some of your ideas out myself (creating a treatment, outlining chapters, etc…). Thanks for taking the time to write. Much appreciated!

  2. Shivaji says:

    Hi John,I’ve found afew ways to get past blocks:1) Go the Philip Pullman route Plumbers don’t get plebmur’s block; why should writers get writer’s block? Envision yourself doing this for a living. What would you do if this had to be in to an editor in six months’ time. That generally gets me over any laziness impulses I have.2) But a barrier in front of your main character. Something. Anything. Kill someone if you have to. Make it big, and make it bad. Characters react best under pressure. Put them under pressure. Keep the pressure on. Torture them. Hound them to the brink. Then have them fight their way out of the problem and emerge victorious. That is what readers want from stories, after all and you may just find your characters improving as a result.3) Keep writing. Every day. Write something. They’re only words you can go back and change them as much as you want.4) Don’t focus too much on plot. Remember: characters come first. Look at a situation in your novel and think what each of your main characters would do in that situation. If their reactions turn out pretty much the same, then change those reactions. Your characters will change at the same time, and become more individual and vibrant. Focusing on plot too much makes a novel become a series of and then, and then, and then, and then . Focusing on characters makes it become a series of exciting encounters with thrilling people.5) Read something. Someone you admire. Spend a few days reading them, then write something OTHER than you main novel for the rest of the week. Try writing exercises: scenes composed entirely of dialogue; description exercises (minute detail, a page long, on a ball-point pen; then a single line that encapsulates it perfectly). These will flush your favourite writer’s style out of your system, but will give you the inspiration to become like him/her.6) Go visual. Draw your novel as a series of peaks and troughs for your protagonist. This will help you understand the story as their journey, not just a series of random events that happen to involve the same person.7) Plot your acts: beginning, middle, end. Just a line or two on the point of each. This will help you focus on the big picture’ of your novel, and help you envision it as a finished entity. Write. Write all you can. If it’s rubbish, go back and change it. You have the power. You can make your characters do anything. Make daring choices, and explore things you never thought of before: the bottom of the sea, the inside of a nuclear power plant you can go anywhere and do anything, because you are a writer!These are some things that help me. Hope they help you.And remember to have fun, no matter how un-fun it seems.Matt

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