This is just an attempt to bring together visual elements that would make the book compelling on a bookshelf or an Amazon listing.
Please feel free to comment on your first impression. It’s a work in progress.
When you tell a story, it’s easy to slip into a mode of communication I call overview. This is when you say what happened, but without most of the story element. Jack liked going to bars to meet women, and sometimes they’d talk to him, but mostly he would go home empty handed. That is overview. I think it’s tempting to write that way because the movies have a form of this called montage, where the passing of time is sped up, someone ages, or a pattern of behavior is revealed, and then time gets back to normal and here we are in the future. But in the movies, you actually see the character doing stuff.
For prose, the best way to reveal important elements of your story is through dialogue, where characters talk to each other. But dialogue also includes revealing blocking. The two or three characters can’t just sit there. They have to do something while they talk. There are subtle ways to reveal their emotions or motivations, like tapping, or pacing, or building or destroying something.
In action scenes, where someone is doing something that moves the plot forward, you typically need dialogue to help explain or support the actions.
And in inner dialogue, the reader gets the intimate thoughts of the Point of View character. Too little of this breaks the flow. Too much bores the reader. This can be a good mode for transitional scenes. Jack drove his Buick away from the bar. He’d struck out again. Maybe he needed to chew on a mint. Or maybe Martha was right. Maybe he should finally call her.
It takes more effort to write scenes directly, and stay with the story in real time. But your story will be much more readable than an overview.
Here’s where a writer has to get organized. I’ve talked to a lot of writers who just plow through with no aim, and hope a story works out in the end. In my opinion, that’s for amateurs.
I use Microsoft Excel to keep my stories and chapters organized. A lot of writers use Scrivener, but I don’t know much about that program. I hear it does a lot of custom things and helps organize on a lot of levels.
I use Excel because that program speaks my language. It just makes really good sense to me.
One thing I do is create a page in Excel for my list of characters. What do they look like? How do I describe their attire or mannerisms? What do they do? Who do they know? This way, if I refer back to a character from chapter two in chapter 19, I can just look at my spreadsheet and see what was unique about them.
I also keep a timeline page. What happened and when? I put down dates and years, whether or not I use those in the narrative.
I keep a chapter highlights page. What was the crux of each chapter, when did it happen and who had the point of view (POV)? It’s easiest and less confusing to keep the POV with one character through the entire narrative. But it’s also limiting. So my rule is that the POV cannot change in the middle of a chapter. New POV? New chapter.
The outline stage is where the writer decides who everyone is, and whether they get married, have babies, or die. A story has to have twists and turns. It has to have conflict and intrigue. Find appropriate places for these in the outline.
The writer might decide later in the process that certain plot twists don’t work, or that certain characters need to do something different than planned. That’s fine. The outline is not your Bible. It’s your Constitution. You can alter it.
I change the Excel spreadsheet to reflect changes I’ve made later in the process. So when I’m done, the two documents tell the same story, just in different ways.
An exceptional child, a curious loss of memory, and a tall thin stalker who claims to have the answers. That’s Fugue in C Minor.
The manuscript is up to 56,000 words now. I’m speeding up in my old age.
Sometimes I listen to songs like U2’s Sunday, Bloody Sunday, or John Lennon’s Imagine, and I think protest songs are a waste of time. People don’t listen to music and expect it to change the world.
People don’t read novels and hope they will change the world, either.
And yet, I find that things I put in my stories start happening in real life. In my first novel (your first novel will probably suck, like mine did), I decided the main characters should wind up divorced. Then it happened to me. Maybe I just saw that coming on some level. In my second novel, the main character goes to work for a huge conglomerate called the AUC. Years later I started working for a huge company with similar initials.
So in my third novel, the one I am working on now, the main character is trying to compose a song for his wife (he is a composer, after all), and in the story he gets about 15 seconds into the song and gets stuck. I decided to write that song, not just describe it, and guess how far the real-life song is . . . 15 seconds. At least I fixed the timing of it yesterday.
So this holds up the process of writing the novel, because my brain wants to solve this problem before going on to the next one. It irritates me to skip a dilemma and come back to it later. Another choice is to go into Editorial mode and add the narrative voice in the first 15 chapters or so (I don’t number them). But that is kind of like admitting defeat, which also irritates me.
So why don’t I just write a novel about a couple who wins the lottery and lives happily ever after? Or someone who reads a blog and suddenly understands all the mysteries of the universe?
Max is one of the few authors I read who is still alive (may he live many more decades, cos he’s still fairly young). I thought it would be helpful to post the words of an established writer, but I don’t re-post or re-blog, so here’s the link to his own words. He wrote Jennifer Government (which is one of my favorite recent novels), Company, Syrup and Machine Man.
I like to read everything an author has written and see how they grew or got cynical (like Kurt Vonnegut). But I haven’t done that with Max. Since I read Jennifer Government, I have been looking for other modern writers I might like. I’ll post about others later. This is Max’s spotlight. And I plan to read Company soon.
It didn’t hurt that part of Jennifer Government was set in my home town of Portland, and that some scenes happened at Nike, literally a stone’s throw from where I work. Don’t worry, I didn’t hit anyone. And it was a small stone.
But what I really liked about Barry’s book was that it was a lot like mine (except that he sold lots of copies and important people in the publishing business know his name).