Once upon a time, I finished a novel. Then another. Then another. Each time, at the end, I paused to reflect and understand the lessons learned in this particular iteration of my ongoing process of refinement and education in the fine art of Writing a Novel. At one point (circa 2005 or so) I had convinced myself that I had found the perfect process for getting a novel written. I can only look back at that time and laugh; there really is no such thing, even for the same author, from book to book. Oh, sure, we learn new things each time that can apply to future works, and I’m going to talk about some of that today, but each book is such a unique experience that the process must differ in some ways, either large or small. At least, if we’re doing it right and bringing it from our heart.
So I find myself in the closing of the first draft of Room 3. I wrote the ending to the novel yesterday, and all that remains is to craft the Epilogue, which is quite important to the overall narrative, and a new Chapter 1, my intention always being to write the framing story last. Next step is a very quick and brisk edit, then off to the eager hands of my beta readers, as I’ve found my best bet is to carry out my own deep edit concurrent with the beta readers, rolling all of those changes into one big edit prior to the editor’s work. This means that most of the heavy lifting of writing this book is complete, and I can start the work of plotting City of the Dead.
This means it’s time to reflect on the biggest lessons that I learned during the writing of Room 3, as I did when I reached several milestones on Corridors. Here are the main ones:
Less is More. This was the #1 lesson to take from this novel. Where in the past I have struggled with feeling like I need to fill a certain amount of words, with describing every action from Point A to Point B, I saw this time that broad strokes can work just as well. Here’s an example of what I mean: if a character shows up behind the other characters, there’s no need to definitively state that every character turns and looks at that character. The reader’s mind will fill in the blanks there with something as simple as the word “faced”. I think in general a lot of newbie writers struggle with this – how much detail is too much, and how little too little? I think – I hope – that I’m finding the correct balance at last.
Trust Your Instincts. That last statement belies this one a little. Maybe I should be more definitive. I HAVE found the correct balance. YEAH! Actually, what I mean by this is to trust when your instincts tell you that something isn’t working – or is. I can’t tell you how many times in this book I thought I might have written myself into a corner, or a chapter had become flat, only to have something pop out of nowhere to redeem the direction. The chase at the end of the novel is just such a great example. It was pure seat-of-the-pants writing, throwing away the game plan entirely, but it all ended up working in a much more organic fashion than what I had plotted. Happy little accidents like that always amaze me, and I’ve learned that it’s time to allow those to breathe – I can trust my own ability to work my way out of those corners.
Don’t Give Up. This is the paramount lesson. This book changed protagonist and narrator between three iterations. The first involved a kidnapped woman held in a cellar along with a white man working an office job. When that didn’t work, it moved over to an overweight white woman who was kidnapped and forced to write a novel that slowly started coming to life around her (including that man in his office job). When that didn’t work, it changed to its current protagonist, Kelli, and even then the original intention was for her to simply be narrator and have Carla as the protagonist, carried over from the last version, with a whole new plot. In the end, Kelli took center stage, but was able to share it in a way with Carla. You’ll understand when you read it.
So those are my three big lessons, and they are valuable ones. Tune in next week when I hope to have the cover reveal, just in time to get the draft out to beta readers. Have a great weekend!