Thursday, September 3, 2015

You Can't Write a Book Like a Sock

My novel and I are starting round three today: the third big draft.

A bunch of people have asked me lately when it's coming out. The answer is still I have no idea. In general, children's books seem to have more lead time than adult books--the last two books I wrote were published about a year after I was entirely finished writing them. This can move up, but I'd guess six months is about as quick as all the things I'm not involved with can happen. The galley, which looks like a paperback copy of the book, goes to major review agencies about four months before publication.

The big question is when I'll finish it. The answer to that is also I have no idea. It's not that I'm being lazy around here. It's not that I'm a bad writer, or a particularly slow one. It's not that I don't type fast.

It's that writing a novel is messier than most people think.

Say you want to knit a sweater. You find a pattern you like, buy some yarn, start. Saying you're knitting a sock. (I knit socks a lot.) Your basic sock, top-down form, is simply this: cast on, cuff, leg, heel flap, turn heel, pick up instep stitches, instep, foot, toe, Kitchener stitch it shut. You can use a fancy stitch pattern or exotic yarn, but you still follow those steps in order.

When you look at a finished novel, it seems to be a lot like a sock (stay with me here). Introduction, rising action, sub-plot/solution, sub-plot/solution (these on the wave of rising action), crisis, resolution, conclusion. Right? You probably learned that in school somewhere.

The thing is, that's NOT how most novels are written. They start out as a big hairy mess, a tangle of ideas and people. There's action, sure, but nothing like a wave pushing the story forward. After the first draft you look at the mess, kept the stuff you like, eliminate the boring bits, and search for the holes. Holes in truth-telling, holes in logic, holes in characterization. All the holes. Then figure out how to close them.

Then do it again.
Again.
As much as necessary, until it looks seamless and solid.

I'm not giving spoilers on my new book, but two days ago, as I was cold-hosing my daughter's horse's infected ankles (nothing gives you time to think like cold-hosing), I suddenly came up with a whole new big piece of plot. I mean, when you read it in the final book, you'll think I had envisioned it from the start. It feels central, and organic, and I can tie it back to other things that are already there. We can set up some neat thematic relationships.

But see? This plot point didn't exist until the third draft.

Its not a sock. Not at all.