"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, August 25, 2008

'Nuff said.

So how does a writer who has been raised in a box of 500 words pen a 60,000 word novel?
I actually read, in a writer's online group, a writer who said she had the main points of her novel written, and then she was going to go back and fill in the rest with fluff.
No. No. No. Words are not packing material. Every chapter has to go somewhere, has to mean something. If you are reading this and thinking, why, yes, I'll just put some verbal peanuts around my main points and voila - put down the pen, step away from the Word document, and take up some other hobby.
The smarty pants answer is that I wrote 500 words 120 times. Seriously, for my first novel, I had some scenes in my head, and I wrote aimless words to get me from one vignette to the next. It's not a technique that I'd recommend. As a matter of fact, it reminds me of the Beatles' movie, Magical Mystery Tour. They thought they'd put a bunch of odd characters on a bus and film it - naturally, hilarity would ensue.
Hilarity did not ensue. It may have threatened to sue, I don't know.
For my next novel, I put an outline together. I've read interviews with lots of famous authors who scoff at outlining and still produce works of art. Good for them. I was writing my very first murder mystery and I wanted to make sure I had all of my clues in a row. My outline was not particularly detailed, but I described each chapter and what I wanted to happen.
This doesn't mean that I followed each chapter to the letter. I do have a few "Soupy Sales" moments in my book. For those of you who weren't raised in the Jurassic Era, Soupy Sales was a guy with a kid's show. Every show, there'd be a knock on Soupy's door and you never knew who was on the other side. Sometimes it was a famous person, sometimes it was a film clip of an old cowboy and indian movie, once it was a naked lady (we didn't see her, but you shoulda seen the look on Soupy's face).
So I never planned for Peri to meet the apish man who works for the collection agency, or the mother of the number one suspect in Marnie's murder. But I had started the chapter with Peri in her office, and there's a knock at the door... who's there?
They actually worked in the book, but I would never rely on Soupy moments.
Mostly, I was able to stretch my writing to novel length because I was able to linger on descriptions more than I am able to do in my columns. I could fill the readers' senses with the sights and smells and noises. I could add dialogue and observances that, while not absolutely necessary, fleshed the scene out. Peri and her cohorts could, hopefully, become real people to my readers.
And no, I didn't write it in 500-word chunks.

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