I wouldn’t call myself a “novelist.” It’s one of those words of which I have an irrational dislike. I picture novelists sitting around in damask lounges where I’m not allowed, smoking tiny cigarettes, wobbling their big brains at each other and speaking about Humanity without separating their teeth.
But I have written 4 novels so far, which is about 3 3/4 more than most people, and considerably fewer than Terry Pratchett.
Anyway, the way you write a novel is you think of a character and then you have your character do something, usually while whining about it, for about three hundred pages. If you want to write a young adult novel, which is what I do, you do the same thing, except . . . well, you just kind of do the same thing. I don’t know.
The thing is, what many critically-acclaimed novels have in common is that they “make sense.” This is where I usually have trouble. Oh, things start well. They hum along. And then I reach the 3/4 mark, and something is wrong. Let me explain it using word puzzles.
I enjoy word puzzles. I get those variety packs with all the different kinds. Here’s one I did called “Simon Says.” The idea is you write the phrase they tell you to, and then there are step by step instructions on how to change it a little at a time, and at the end, surprise! There’s a different phrase there!
Here’s the beginning:
So far, so good. Looks like we’re on our way to turning “Spring Training” into “All Star Game,” which is what happened about halfway through. But “All Star Game” was just a little divertissement in the middle. The real finale was to be “World Series,” revealed at Step 18.
Only something went horribly, horribly wrong.
Here is my Step 18:
That’s right. “LDORDWSURIFJ.” This is not a case of “BORLD SERIES.” This is a major issue. Something effed up went down somewhere, and I have no idea what it was. It could be one rogue letter, or an entire step missing, or I could have read one of the directions wrong. Anything. And from that moment, little things began to fall subtly out of place until the snowball effect reached its terrible pinnacle at Step 18.
That’s what happens with novels sometimes. They say if your ending is wrong, it’s not really your ending that’s wrong, and that’s probably true. But the gentle musing over whether a different angle or lighting might make your denoument more effective is completely different from the sickening feeling that arises from getting to the top of your dramatic arc to realize your story is running naked through the woods like a lunatic. At that point, there’s nothing to do but go back and pick everything apart to find the rogue letter that will set it all right again.
And as I quietly weep over my 3/4 novels, my only solace is that, probably, other writers have faced this kind of thing before. And maybe they didn’t even have blogs. Maybe they just had to write whiny little notes on their parchment or whatever: Writing is hard.