I began the piece I’m working on last November. It was my 2011 NaNoWriMo project. This novel was much different from my previous one: I had a story, more or less. I initially didn’t like this story as much, and I would have chosen the first as my first novel, but this one seemed like an easier sell, if I could pull it off.
It’s a story about travelling across country. I won’t say anymore than that, for now. My characters travel by vehicle from the farthest east of the country to the farthest west. If you live in countries such as Ireland or Romania, I’m sure this doesn’t seem like much of an adventure. I live in Canada, and it’s a long frickin way from one coast to the other. There’s also one highway, the Trans Canada Highway. There are other highways. There are two ways through the Rockies, and Ontario has options. But basically it’s a coast to coast run.
We know what the story is, basically. It won’t take a genious to figure out the sequence of events as it relates to scenery. My characters can’t take random hops around just to make it interesting. Scenery and timeline are known; they’re static.
Consider one of the most famous coast to coast stories, The Cannonball Run, a 1981 movie starring Burt Reynolds. It’s not an Oscar winning story, but we were entertained. We knew the storyline, a coast-to-coast race, but that didn’t matter. The events along the way were what mattered.
My big challenges have been answering the questions “what?” and “why?” What happens along the way, and why are we on this trip. How to I build tension? How to I add meaning? How do I keep the reader engaged?
I consider this a literary novel.
I can hear your gears ticking: “how do I write a literary version of The Cannonball Run?” I hear a pause followed by “Good luck with that, John.”
The “why” was actually kind of fun to answer. Why would my characters do this? The easy answer is that lots of people do it. Lots of people travel across the country. Every summer I see licence plates from all over the west coast from Alaska to California. They are all fairly common. A vacation type of trip easily fit into my story. If you feel yourself saying “I’d love to do that,” then you should be ables to understand the pull I feel from my story. “Oh, I’d love to do that!”
Never trust John!
There were places along the way I needed to vist to trigger the transformations I was after, and that was a little more difficult, but I think I did it. And writing that story line brought other facets of my characters to life. They were heading down an “artificial” road, a road that didn’t really make sense, but if it was made believable, it would frame some dramatic transformation.
And I didn’t have an ending when I began writing. I did have a general idea, but it was fretty fuzzy. Writing the story revealed a more logical ending, for me, which nicely frames my characters’ transformations. My first version was rather Cavemanish, but as I’ve pondered it at night while trying to fall asleep, I discovered another layer of meaning which I am now writing to.
When I read Miram Toews’ chicken book, A Complicated Kindness, I cursed her for not clearly revealing her mother was having an affair. And I cursed myself for not picking up the fat that in The Sun Also Rises Buddy was impotent. Picking up on such small but important facts would have changed my experiences with these books. I hope that if Ms. Toews ever reads my story she will be sucked into the wrong conclusions like I was with her book. Revenge will be sweet!
The “what” question answered itself as I wrote. I think my strength is becoming empathetic with my characters and finding their flaws. I had planned themes, and I follow them, but early on another theme worked its way in. I didn’t plan it, but it needed to happen, and it did. I brushed it off as sappy, but it kept hanging around very subtely throughout. It only made sense to fulfill this idea at the end: tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you said, the standard writing and presentation outline.
I really haven’t told you much. Sorry about that. I’m writing this for myself today. I’m trying to justify all the crap I’ve written and motivate myself to finish it. Not a problem at the moment, but I have written a lot of crap in it. Last night I ripped out a whole scene and replaced it completely. There were things that needed to happen and choices that needed to be made, and the previous scene was just goofy, so I ditched the airy NaNo scene and inserted the slower but important scene, a sequel as the Snowflake guy describes it.
I’m finding this guy’s structured scene writing advice very useful in writing my story. As I’ve said, we know chain of events, and it’s challenging bringing them to life and keeping them fresh. These scene writing outlines are very useful, and I think they are working very well. When I finish in another month or so, hopefully, I’ll read it cover to cover and let you know.