a blog by Ellen Davies

Update on my novel


Even Zoey wonders why I’m not working on this.

People keep asking me how my novel is coming along. Well, take a look—it’s coming along great! Look at all that paper! The scribbled notes! Look how comfortable it looks on the floor!

So okay, it’s a big pile that I had to move off my desk and onto the floor. Where it’s been waiting for me. Patiently collecting dust, and probably spiders.

I’m reading “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks (when I’m not reading yoga books). I’m barely halfway into it, but already it is helping, because I see that the way I was writing wasn’t the best way.

I started out just writing. No plans, no direction, just letting my characters do whatever they wanted. Without any strategy to guide them, they became compulsive gamblers, born-again Christians, EMTs, arsonists, embezzlers, and wild partiers. After a while, a path appeared—the story line. I started following it. The characters calmed down and started acting like they were part of something.

As soon as I completed a new chapter, I would hand it over to Tina the Writing Coach. She would read each section and then ask me some really annoying questions, like: “Do you have an outline yet?” or “Did you make a timeline?” And the worst: “How does this story end?”

I hate outlines. And I didn’t have any clue how the story was going to end. I was writing organically! All I had to do was keep writing, trust the process, and, like magic, my words would shape themselves into a novel.

I managed to write a whole first draft this way. Tina the Writing Coach continued to be supportive, but somewhat baffled at my writing process.

Then I took the draft to a Reader. This woman said nothing about my lack of an outline, which made me feel smug. She liked the plot, characters and dialog, which thrilled me! I’d done it! I’d written a novel!

Then she said I needed to toss out the flashbacks, because they stopped the forward movement of the story.

And the flashbacks were fifty percent of the draft. Half the novel! That felt like a punch to the gut.

When I got over my shock, I saw that she was right. The flashbacks had to go. Which meant I had major revisions to do. I got to work, revising. And I kept hitting roadblocks. I’ll spare you all the gruesome (and rather boring) details and just sum up with this: writing is like working a puzzle. If you make one small change over here, it affects something else over there. That’s easy to manage in a short piece of writing. But in a 250 page draft, it’s overwhelming. My organic writing style no longer worked. There had to be a better way.

Enter “Story Engineering.” And the realization that I really do need an outline.

I hate outlines. They are too constraining. I’m an artist, people! No outline can limit my writing! I’d rather write the piece first, then make the outline.

Which works great for a short piece, but not so much for a novel.

If you are thinking about writing a novel, I would recommend the “organic” way of writing as a way to get started. Just sit down and write. Don’t worry about the outcome. Let your characters go nuts. Invent crazy situations. Get used to writing. See how quickly you get those ideas onto the page. After a while, like me, you’ll probably sense a path or a direction for your novel.

Unlike me, you’ll want to pause there, and make an outline.

Because I have a lot work to do. I’ll get it done, eventually. Thanks for asking.

1 thought on “Update on my novel”

  • My favorite book on this is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. My thre novel series take up residence in the floor and the wall 🙂 but I do start with the ending. Write that first. Then earn my way there. Thank you for inspiring me to return to rewrites of book 2 on the series 😉

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