Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Writing Vs. Not

Yesterday I started my new Egypt novel.  (It doesn't have a name.  I usually go way down the road toward actual publication before my books get titles.  I send manuscripts to my editors with titles like, "Kim's New Book."  I really do.  And also, I won't tell you more details about the novel except that it's an Egypt novel.  Talking about my stories before I've fully written them messes me up.)

ANYWAY.  It's gonna be that kind of a day.  Yesterday I started my new novel, and today I need to change everything.  Some of the dialogue is okay, but the setting, I think, needs to be different.  I need a real fictional character to bounce my main character off of, not just a little cardboard cutout sitting in a chair.  (He needs a NAME, for one thing--but he also needs a personality.)  My main character needs more definition.  What sort of person is he really?  That's important, because it's going to be the driving force in the book.  Like many of my novels, I'm going to take something real that happened, insert a fictional character, and go from there.  I know the ending.  I'm really happy with the ending.  The trick will be to get there in a way that carries some emotional heft.  Because if you don't resonate with the ending, you're gonna throw the book across the room.  At least, that's what I usually do.

So.  Sounds like I need to go back to work, doesn't it?  After all, as Mark Twain famously said (or maybe not, my daughter told me after trying to look it up), "Ninety percent of writing is the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."

But that does mean ten percent is not.  Some days, I'm better off letting the story sit in its own juices for awhile.  For example, this opening scene I did yesterday--it's clearly where the book should begin.  The setting isn't right, but the scene, the setup, is excellent.  But I do need to figure out my main character, and I also need that second character--the cardboard one--to be a reflection, in some ways, of another of the main characters we're going to meet later on.  I need my main character to want to emulate the second character--this will set up a future conflict. 

But--the main character that comes later is a Real Historical Figure.  So I've got to get him right; I can't make him something he obviously was not. 

See the issues?  That's a lot for four pages of manuscript.  On the other hand, it took the four pages of manuscript to get this sort of analysis going in my head.  If it all ends up in the trash it won't have been wasted.  I've spent a solid hour this morning in targeted research, figuring out some very specific things, and now, I really think the best thing will be to settle in with my more general research for the rest of the morning.  Not because I'm shirking, but because sometimes the smartest way to write a novel is not to write at all.