Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Not to Write a Novel

This is a blatant attempt to distract you all from the measurements I posted in my last update.

I've been working on a novel for a while now.  The basic story is the origins of the narrator in "Lennon's Glasses," although the novel actually revolves around the Bloomsbury Group, featuring Virginia Woolf and her crowd.  I have started the first chapter a couple of times, but each time I make it through the first scene and then get totally stuck on what should happen next.  So I decided that I am the sort of writer who needs to work from a pretty extensive outline. Like many writers, I have a ton of writing books in my personal library, so I've been working my way through all the ones that address plot planning to try to find a model that would work well for me.

I'd narrowed it down to three:

  1. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass
  2. First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner
  3. The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
I put the question to my husband, who immediately voted for The Plot Whisperer, as I've been telling him about it as I read it.  Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel (not the workbook version) is a pretty interesting deconstruction of what makes successful novels; I read that book, and then also read several of the "breakout novels" he identifies, and agreed that they were pretty compelling reads, sometimes even against my own inclination.

Who doesn't want to write a breakout novel? I picked up the workbook and opened it to the first sets of exercises to read them aloud to my husband. 
Exercise:  Adding Heroic Qualities
Step 1: Who are your personal heroes? Write down the name of one.
Step 2: What makes this person a hero or heroine to you? What is his or her greatest heroic quality? Write that down.
Step 3: What was the moment in time in which you first became aware of this quality in your hero/heroine? Write that down.
Step 4: Assign that quality to your protagonist.  Find a way for he or she actively to demonstrate that quality, even in a small way, in his or her first scene.  Make notes, starting now.  (note that there are two lines allotted for this step)
Follow-up Work: Prior to the climactic sequence of your novel, find six more points at which your protagonist can demonstrate, even in a small way, some heroic quality.
Exercise: Opening Extra Character Dimensions
Step 1: What is your protagonist's defining quality; that is, how would anyone describe your protagonist? What trait is most prominent in his personality? What kind of person is she? Write that down.
Step 2: Objectively speaking, what is the opposite of that quality? Write that down.
Step 3: Write a paragraph in which your protagonist actively demonstrates the opposite quality that you wrote down in step two.  Start writing now.
Follow-up work: Define a secondary character quality; write down its opposite; write a paragraph in which this character demonstrates the opposite secondary quality.  In the same way, open third and fourth additional dimensions to your protagonist.

I'm not totally sure I could name my personal heroes off the top of my head, or that my personal heroes are even remotely relevant to my protagonist's journey, but the entire thing sounded dry, mathematical, and arbitrary.  Jeff wanted me to toss it right out.  

I can't toss a book, but if anyone wants the workbook and the companion text (which is much better and more fully fleshed out), speak up and I'll get it to you.

For the time being, I'm going with Martha Alderson, The Plot Whisperer. The book is full of useful worksheets for planning a novel, and she has a workbook out that I might investigate as well. Since I'm in reinvention mode, I'd like to really kick my novel into gear now and ratchet up the word count on the first draft.  

If you are interested in following my progress, I'll be posting more of my fiction work at Cindy Ash, Writer.  That site is more of a journal/tracking site than a proper blog, so the only links and pictures that will be posted there will be for my own convenience, although friendly types are welcome to follow along and share encouragement, advice, and gentle suggestions.

Are you working on a big project?  What resources have you found to be laughably unhelpful?  Please share them in the comments!