On writing my first novel

October 27, 2016

We return to Costa Rica in less than two weeks! Once I get home, work on novel number two goes into high gear. This is a thriller set in the little village I live in near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. The seed was planted in my head by David Morrell (yes, THE David Morrell). He asked what I do in Costa Rica and then asked “have you ever written about that?” He suggested a protagonist, and we brainstormed details that would add pizzazz to the story. After our chat I couldn’t wait to get going on it, and have already got an outline, and a title…LOW SEASON. Of course, things may change.

As I embark on writing this second novel, I’m looking back on how I wrote my first one. My ‘system’ is still evolving, for sure. Here is what I did–

1. OUTLINE: A scene by scene outline, with plot points that needed to be in the scene to move the story forward. My outline was quite thorough, and I added to it as I went along. I didn’t start writing the book until I had the ending decided.

A note about the ending. I was stuck on what it would be. One of my writing mentors, Joe Nassise, said “Think about how you want the reader to feel at the end of your book. Then, write an ending that makes them feel that.”

SO I thought and thought and thought. I wanted the reader to feel wonder, awe, shock, sadness…and possibly hold their breath, maybe gasp. An image struck me while I sipped my rum drink in my hammock, and I promptly felt elated and burst into tears. I had it. The perfect ending.

2. BUTT TO CHAIR: Yup. I am one of those who isn’t a strong believer in writer’s block as such…unless you define writer’s block as letting life intrude on your writing time, procrastination, and just not sitting down and writing. So the second thing I did to get ‘er done was sit down every day and write. As I wrote I made notes about research I would need to do…later, after the writing was done. As I neared the end I was writing 6 – 8 hours a day. I nearly blinded myself, but I got the first draft done in under 4 months, so it was worth it!!!

I really do think it’s that simple. Sit down. Write.

3. SURPRISE: I had an outline, and I worked from it…some of the time. In my outline the death count was 2, maybe 3 people…I actually can’t remember. As I wrote I discovered new characters, people essential to the story who had been lurking in the shadows. I killed most of those.

The outline was totally essential for me, but the story has a life of its own, and needs, and those juicy surprises keep things fresh and fun. Discovering something or someone in the story and bringing it to life was one of the delights I found in the novel writing. Short stories offer some chances for surprising me as a writer, though usually it’s in a moment, an image, a revelation for the character or the reader. Not entire scenes where I get to send a character walking naked through the streets of New York singing a fabulous opera ditty to the delight of onlookers so that he can put off going home and dismembering his children.

4. EDITING: This is the part I am still struggling with. How to be most efficient/effective at the editing phase. And so I will write a whole ‘nother post about this most important and most difficult (for me) process!!!

I loved every moment of spinning my first mega-yarn! Can’t wait to do it again!! LOW SEASON here I come.

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