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The Three Rules for Writing a Novel
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Somerset Maugham is supposed to have said, "There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

I shouldn't dream of disagreeing with such an august personage, but as I embark on my fourteenth novel (Fourteen?  Is that possible?) I think I can allow myself three rules that apply to my personal writing process.  Especially in the case of this particular novel, which is based on a short story I wrote several years ago, I find that I need these rules.  It turns out that expanding a short story into a book-length work is a substantially different undertaking from my previous efforts.  So here I go, fully admitting that I composed these, in part, to quiet my own anxieties:

1)   Every novel has its own process.

This  is an old rule, actually.  Even with straightforward novels, the kind that begin at the beginning and run straight through to the end, there's a learning curve, and it's new with each project.

2)  Each novel forces me to learn to write all over again.

Painfully true.  It seems that even novels within a series challenge me with new plot problems, pacing issues, character arcs.  It all goes more smoothly if I just accept that I'm going to have learn to do it afresh each time.

3)  An open mind is my strongest asset.

It's the current work that has taught me this.  I thought, in my innocence, that expanding a short story into a book would be a simple thing.  I have the setting, the plot, the characters.  I know what's going to happen, and when, and why.  What else could I need?

See #2.  Pacing.  Character arcs.  Subplots.  In other words, #1 is still true.   This book, like the others, has its own process.  The only certain thing is that I'll have the same doubts and fears with every novel, as my family has made clear to me whenever I voice them.

I wonder if the redoubtable Mr. Maugham would grant me these?

7 Comment count
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Rule of thumb - your

Rule of thumb - your characters should surprise you through word and deed.

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I guess I have a different thumb.

I love to make discoveries with my characters, but they exist to serve the story. I tend to want them to do what I tell them to do.

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Thumbs up.

Now you and I disagree but we both agree with W. Somerset Maugham. Sheesh!

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Character Surprise

Is it acceptable to have a character surprise throughout the story for both good and bad reasons? The purpose would be to show conflict within a personality that is mostly destructive but constantly drawing sympathy through unselfish acts. Whether by sordid manipulative design or genuine concern, thats the surprise that reveals itself in the end!!
Or is it better to have the bad surprise be the peak (jolting revelation) and the good surprise be the valley (calming sensible behavior) ?

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Sounds intriguing!

Obviously, I don't know your story. I love a conflicted and complex character, though. It's axiomatic that even the bad guys have good somewhere inside them, unless they're truly sociopathic. Even then they often act good sometimes, to convince people they're normal.

Follow your instinct, first and foremost. If it's working for your inner guide to reveal your character gradually, then that should be your choice. As long as it's all neatly foreshadowed, you can make almost anything work.

I think.

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Elements of Surprise

Nice post, Louise!

Like you, I expect my characters to do what I want them to — up to a point. But when they outright refuse, or stubbornly go off in some other direction, I have to pay attention. If they're written strongly enough in the first place, maybe they know better than me. After all, if I stop hearing their voices in my head, I have no story!

So this corroborates your point #3, I guess — keep that open mind!


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Hearing voices . . .

It's sort of scary, isn't it? :-) But that's the creative process. If I were to outline every single event in a book, I think all the fun would go right out of it. Surprises are sometimes where the excitement is.