How Is It For You?

So you’ve decided to write a novel... You know what genre you want to aim for, be it commercial women’s fiction (Don’t you just hate that genre title? That’s a whole other blog post!) or sci-fi, vampire busters whatever. Where do you start? By writing a few lines? By exploring some themes? By writing some dialogue that the persistent character who has been loitering with intent in your head for weeks would say? Or do you simply have a story you want to tell and the device of telling it happens naturally? If so, you’re one lucky writer!

For me, I start a project by listening to the voices in my head. Yeah, I know – there are places for people who do that... I usually have a couple of imaginary people to begin with. They’re nattering to each other and after a few pages of writing the chatter down, I can normally tell quite a lot about them. Who they are, where they might live, what they look like, how old they are, whether they have a wart on the end of their nose, an unusual giggle, or a five o’clock shadow that no razor cures. I always have several theme ideas and sometimes the way the characters talk to each other, what they say or how they say it may indicate the main theme. Friendship, loss, personal growth, betrayal? These conversations rarely appear in the actual opening chapter – being a pure research tool - but what they often do, is hint at what the opening line could be?

What comes next is absolutely imperative in order for me to get away from the above starting blocks. I HAVE to have a title. It may end out changing through the process of writing a novel but one that I believe in has to be in place for the real writing to begin. I have to see it there in the ‘Header’ of the page on my laptop...I love brainstorming title ideas and have an entire notebook of titles for, as yet, unwritten stories. I search through books of poetry, some of Shakespeare’s idioms, pages of novels, song lyrics, seeking inspiration for that hooky title that will instantly evoke a response from the reader.

Then the fun begins! The highs and lows of storytelling; the risks your protagonist may or may not take; the potential transformation he or she may undergo; the conflicts and struggles that create the drama; the jeopardy they are placed in order to get where they need to get to.

And what happens me at around thirty five thousand words? I get stuck! Always and without fail... I then leave it for a few days until someone starts talking in my head again. The character, normally the main one, is often quite indignant, like I’ve been rude and ignored them for a while – but once they’re talking again the words seem to flow and flow until the typing of ‘The End.’
Though the joy of completing the first draft is amazing, that’s just what it is – a first draft - an almost complete work ready for re-drafting, editing, slicing and dicing. At this point I normally find a hole to crawl into rather than face that final hurdle.

But a revised, alas often even rewritten work, is more likely to be the complete work. And when that happens, it’s pure magic and worth every single moment of self doubt and agonising along the way.

This isn't intended to be a 'How To...' piece - more a snippet of how it happens for me. And I'm a nosy Norah. I want to know how it unfolds for other novel writers. Do you have OCD type ways of doing things, favourite snacks, writers block at certain word counts?

Er, voices in your head?


Helen Black said...

I'm always fascinated by the processes of other writers.

Partly as you say, from nosiness,a but also, I guess, I always hold out a hope that their process might be 'the answer'.
HB x

Jules said...

Interesting post.

I also like to have a title picked out early, I think it just takes the scariness out of a blank page when there is already a header and some words, even if it is just the same title on each page :)

I'm new to the blog, but already enjoying it.

Leela Soma said...

The title does make such a difference to the start even if you don't use it in the end. Good tip re looking for ideas in the Classics,poems etc my last book was triggered by a photo in The Times newspaper. One never knows when the idea strikes that makes you want to write the novel!Great blog, could relate to most of what you say.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Like the others, I love reading about process - thanks, Fi. And like you, the title is really, really important. It's like a mini, pocket-size version of the whole novel. Fascinated by your listening to your characters - must try that!

Karen said...

I have to have a title too, before I can get going - can spend ages getting it just right.

My story usually starts from a 'what-if?' and then the characters spring to life.

Caroline Green said...

Like Helen I always love hearing this stuff about about other writers. Really interesting about the characters having a dialogue...that doesn;t happen for me at all. I have to start with a certain atmosphere and music helps create these. I agree about needing a title very early on though...