The difficulty of starting a novel...

I felt I had to get some writing thoughts out to my blog readers...for a little sympathy, advice, and perhaps a few, "I feel the same way('s)"

I've personally found starting a novel very, very difficult. I don't know if I would have ever attempted novel writing if it weren't for Mike Lynch, getting me into the action. Mike never seems to have trouble (he's a machine) (from the Andromeda galaxy actually, isn't that right Mike? j/k). So far I've co-authored three novels with him, but never have I sat down and written one on my own.
Book one, When the Sky Fell, was written by Mike entirely, and then I came and edited and trimmed and gave my two-cents.
Book two, American Midnight, we went every other chapter
Book three, After the Cross, same thing, every other chapter.

Book four...it's my solo project. I've had this story rollicking around in my brain for five years now. I wrote it as a novella, then wrote five scenes from the novel I had in my head. After that I scrapped those, and changed the world from far future sci-fi to near future sci-fi (or modern day sci-fi). Since this switcheroo I've written three false starts, scrapped them, and now finally, I think I have the full vision. And I'm super excited!!! All the previous drafts just didn't feel right...something wasn't quite right.

Monday morning, the 25th of January, I got 600 words down in 4 hours of writing. That's normal for me when starting a novel. I really fine tune things at first. The beginning is the birth of the main characters and I can't be lax with that.  So I imagine until I get about 5,000 to 10,000 words down, that I'll be going pretty slow. Then maybe I'll be able to attempt doubling my output... I'm a slow writer compared to most (or maybe you're slow too, like me!). If I get down 1,000 words in 5 hours, I'm very, very happy.

Well, just wanted to let you know what I've been toiling over the last few months...any thoughts??

How do you go about starting your novels? Do you find the process difficult?

23 comments:

Kat Heckenbach said...

My first novel struck like lightning. I sat down, started typing whatever popped into my head, with no idea of character, plot, or anything. I got out the first chapter (very rough) and was shaking when I finished. I knew I had something. Because the first was the beginning of a series, the second book was already half-formulated in my head before I actually started typing it, so starting that one was no problem either. And, again, book three is already bubbling in the back of my head. I've got the opening scene, so no problem there. I've even started a short story that seems to be growing out of control and turning into a prequel.

BUT, I have another book in mind, completely separate from my series. And I have tried and tried to get the bugger off the ground. So far, it ain't budging. So, yeah, Brandon, "I know how you feel."

nissa_amas_katoj said...

It's finishing a novel that I have trouble with....

My current project is part of this series I've had in my head, in one form or another, for years.

I have about three scenes in my head, a few characters, but now must firm up some of the details of the universe in which the story is set--- making up essential names for things and such....

My main goal in this project is to just write the important scenes first and worry about connecting them up later....

Grace Bridges said...

I like beginnings! I usually get stuck in the middle, getting slow from about 20k onwards, and that's a really hard slog. However, I will say that my beginnings then need an awful lot of work to get them presentable, so your way might be better in getting off to a really good start.

Brandon said...

Hey Kat,
:) I love how you overflow with story ideas. I'm curious, do your ideas revolve around the characters, the world, or plot more?
For me, I tend to get the world figured out and the basics of the plot (although I wrangle over the nuances of them forever). The characters, in this new novel, are central...in essence I want to make a character driven story with a killer plot...so combining those two types of stories has forced me to do a lot of brain storming.

Hey Nissa,
Yeah, I'm like you, sometimes I fret too much over details instead of letting the story loose...but that's just me. So you're planning on connecting the important scenes later...I've always thought that might be a fun way to try and write something...haven't attempted it yet.

Grace :)
You make a good point. Some writers want to nail down the beginning, others just want it down, and then they go back and bringing up to par...I'm the nail down type...
It's amazing how many different ways one can go about writing a story.

KM Wilsher said...

Okay, we've got to talk, where'd you get the blog template??? I've been looking for a blue one that reads across the screen.

As for the post - great by the way - I love to read about other writers' process. I am with Nissa and Grace. . .I love to 'start' a novel. I can rip out a synopsis and short blurbs and prologues and first chapters. Its the middle I start saying 'Wait, where is this going?'

Two weeks ago I finished Cobra Cutlass. I don't know if you will remember, but it was a short story I wrote after a posting you had here about a ROGUE BLADE PRODUCTIONS call. The 5000 short story was not taken by ROGUE BLADE, or anyone else I've sent it, but all my writer friends said, "This is a novel" So I wrote Cobra Cutlass the novel.

For me, the beginning was cake, the second quarter was difficult, I pumped out the third quarter no prob, and the end was/is torture.

So, again I write a whole chapter on your blog comments, but hey - that's cause I love prologues and first chapters! LOL

Can't wait for AM and ATC!!!

Brandon said...

Hey KM :)
Wow, you finished it!!! Congratulations!
From the sounds of it, I'm the weird one who struggles with beginnings...

Can I...maybe...have a peek at chapter one of Cobra Cutlass??

Andra M. said...

Like Grace, I'm killer on the beginning, but half-way through I tend to peter out.

It's an issue often not with the story, but with yours-truly. I tend to second-guess myself about whether or not it's a strong enough plot to keep it going.

Dang ego. Why can't it be strong when I need it to be instead of getting in my way when I'm due for a little (a lot) of humility?

logankstewart said...

My main problem is that I have too many ideas I want to write about. I'll start writing a story and then just quit, abandoning the manuscript for a new adventure. I have several 15-20k stories just sitting in My Documents, waiting for me.

Nice post. Also, nice new color scheme for the blog.

Brandon said...

Andra,
I feel the same way about my writing. I inevitably wonder if its any good.

Logan,
You and me both...I have so many ideas, because I want to make the plot complex, the characters complex, but then I get all twisted around on basic things...should the main character be married, engaged, single...or maybe I want to tell it from a single POV, or multiple...Too many potentials...
and I don't like settling on anything because I inevitably see greener grass on the other side once I do.

Joshua Peacock said...

Hey Brandon,

I start everything off with something really interesting or something really head turning and let it roll from there. I free write most of my beginnings (I actually really like them and get bogged down in the middle).

The big thing, of me, is establishing the setting (which is usually kind of dark). Second priority is establishing the main character and his role in this setting/mood.

I get ideas in dramatic pictures. Sometimes an entire story can spill from a single picture. I'm always imagining scenes akin to the Matrix, or interesting conversations about theology.

A big rule for me is to always, always shape the story to portray the biblical message I want to get across.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Brandon, you make me smile :). I never thought of myself as "overflowing" with story ideas. There are days when I feel like a well run dry...

Thank you!

Anyway, to answer your question: I started off as a pure plotter. The first draft of my first novel was full of some pretty flat characters. Once I shifted my focus to building them, the world began to grow, too. Relationships formed that I had never seen before.

Also, I'm a combo of plotter and pantster now. I plot out the main story line, but then let the scenes emerge as I write. Often times that will shift the main plot a little.

I'm working on my second novel now, and I started a short story about one of the characters in order to figure out where he came from and why he turned out the way he did (as in, evil). The things I never knew about him until I started the short story! So important to the plot of this book, and it has completely changed the way I look at him. I guess I'm saying, I don't fuss about the details much--I let the characters be who they are and I just put them in a situation and watch them work through it on their own.

OK, now I just sound nuts, don't I?

Mike Lynch said...

Brandon,

Thanks for the nod. I'll pass this on to my Andromedan friends.

As to the most enjoyable part of writing, I would say the beginning. It's fun, fresh, and story full of potential. Kind of like seeing a house when it's nothing more than a foundation and studs. You step back and think about what it's going to look like when it's finished. You can take the story here, you can take it there, and it's all good since whatever direction you choose opens up all kinds of character and plot possbilities.

The tough part for me, and it seems to be for most others, is the middle. That's when the ideas aren't as fluid as they used to be, the story isn't quite living up to your expectations, and you are plain tired of re-writing problem scenes over and over again. You have to really focus on the plot lines, character development, story consistency, crisp dialogue, and that's work.

The enjoyment factor usually picks up again somewhere around the 80% of the finished product. You can see the end of the project looming ever closer, just a few chapters to go, and voila, you're done with the novel. Then, of course, you go back to the beginning and start editing the sucker, but I typically enjoy editing, so I don't mind that so much.

Brandon said...

Hey Joshua,
You know, I'm with you on starting a novel out with a bang. I wrote the first chapter in "After the Cross" and did that...
I guess with this new novel, I've been trying to grab the reader with characterization instead of an interesting plot situation...maybe I need to reconsider...
And I'm with you on the theology aspect...that's an element in my current story.

Kat,
You know what, we are alike, I'm also a plotter and panster. I need some basic plot and goal, and then I let the characters mess with it when they've got a good thing going.
And no, you don't sound nuts, you sound...brilliant :)

Mike,
01010001010 01010 0010100010100101 001110110 whoops, accidently left my Andromedian translator on...forgot you already had your Earth box implanted.
Anyways, I'm with you on the editing...It's enjoyable, but tedious after the thirtieth time through a passage. But that's why American Midnight's going to rock! Because we scoured that bad boy with a fine tooth comb.

Mike Lynch said...

Then I say--Let it rock!

KM Wilsher said...

Um. Brandon, I'll send Chap 1 right over. I'd be honored and hope that you'd give me pointers if you had any :)

Brandon said...

KM,
Yes, please do. I'd love to see it :)

Chris said...

Hey Bradon! Weird how this post slipped through. Blogspot hates me, it seems.

Hmm. To tell you the truth, I plotted my storyworld for three years before I even came up with the real plot. I made maps, charts, races, a language and several other things that interested me. Finally I ran out of excuses and wrote my outline. That sucker was seventeen pages long (and even had snippets of dialogue!) but it came really easy. After that I wrote the prologue, which was a bit harder, but still fun.

I got an old used laptop January last year, and wrote my 140k book in three-quarters of a year. It was a blast! But now I'm looking back after everything I've learned from my critique group... and I'm a little scared. That's some pretty purple prose!

Great post, Brandon!

Brandon said...

Chris,
Haha, purple prose huh...it never ends. I look back after finishing a novel, and I see it too. That's when you can put on your editors glasses and cut those exorbitant words and unnecessary descriptions, and sharpen the novel down.
My new novel American Midnight was something like 128k when we finished it...now it's 101k

That's sweet how your story came together, that sounds like it was a blast to write. I think the best advice I can give you if you really want to be a writer is...don't stop writing. Edit your old novel, but then write a new one with all the wisdom you gained from writing the first one, then after that, write a third one, and on and on. Maybe book number two will get published...maybe book number three...
George Bryan Polivka wrote 14 books before he got Legend of the Firefish published...but man, that book he got published is really, really good! So my point is, keep writing, and your writing will get stronger and you'll gain writing-wisdom, and that's how one winds up writing amazing stories.

I look back at my old work and laugh, and I press on with my new found wisdom.

Games World said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Stone said...

Hi Brandon, (oops, sorry, used wrong login last time.)
Thanks for sharing your writing journey.

Starting a novel is never a problem with me. (I've written four.)

I am easily inspired and simply love throwing words on 'paper.' It is the process afterwards that stumps me. I've 'wasted' untold hours (um, years...) working on a 300,000 epic fantasy novel, only to get a wake up call in 2008 that it needed a lot of work. I bought books from Amazon such as 'Revision And Self-Editing' by James Scott Bell, which was very inspiring. However, by the time I got to the end of the book, I realised I simply don't have the time needed to 'fix' my book. (Kids and working full time.) It's back in the 'maybe one day' pile again, again.

Regards
Peter

Brandon said...

Hi Peter,
Sounds like we have opposite problems :) I struggle to get the first draft down as perfect as possible, and then editing in the 2nd/3rd drafts are a lot smoother.

Peter Stone said...

Hi Brandon,
That would certainly save a lot of time and effort. Even when I'm writing a short story or blog post, I end up doing five drafts before reaching the finished product.

Brandon said...

:)