Monday, June 5, 2017

I'll never forget my first..

Terry Shames here, musing about what I learned from my first attempt to write a novel. 
The short answer is “not much.” Let me explain. I did learn a lot from my first attempt. Even though I go back and look at the science fiction novel that was my first attempt and have great affection for it (like anyone’s first born, it has a special place), I knew when I finished it that it had serious shortcomings. I had at least learned that it was probably better to have some idea of what I had in mind when I started a novel and not just throw words on the page.

The problem is that I wrote six novels and a screenplay before I figured out how to do it right. In essence, I had six first attempts. I had also written big chunks of a few other novels. It took me every one of those millions of words to learn how to write a novel. Here’s the thing: All those books were fine. They were pretty good. They had pretty good characters and pretty good plots and pretty good descriptions and….

Do you get the point here? Just in case you didn’t I’ll go a little deeper. Every time I wrote a novel, when I “finished” it, I told myself that I had read books that were better, but that I had also read plenty of books that were not as good. In other words, my book was “good enough.”

It took a weekend mystery writing workshop to make me understand that “good enough” is not good enough. Maybe I was finally ready to get that message. Maybe the workshop leaders (Sophie Littlefield and Cornelia Read) used the right words to speak to me in particular. Whatever the magic was, I realized finally that it wasn’t enough to just write an okay novel. I knew that if I was going to find a publisher that I had to dig deeper and find my voice, my sense of place, the voice of my characters, and the stories I wanted to tell.

I’ve decided recently that I’d like to branch out from my Samuel Craddock series and start another one. I hope I have finally learned that it isn’t good enough to just sit down and start writing a story that “might” work. I’ve been thinking hard about what kind of character I want to write about, what her story is, where she is, and why she is who she is. In other words I’m digging deep and doing the hard work it takes to approach a good series instead of throwing a lot of words on the page and hoping some of them stick.

This is not meant to be a pantser versus plotter argument. I’m not talking about plot; I’m talking about a character that I know will be intriguing enough for me to spend a lot of time with. A character with a back story compelling enough to intrigue readers through a series. Discovering her has already meant putting a lot of words on the page. But they aren’t plot words, they are meant to help me see her on the page. I may eventually decide that I can’t get a good grasp of her and that I have to come up with someone else. But what I’ve learned is that I don’t have to write a whole novel before I figure that out.

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