This month, I completed and published my first novel, Bay City Runaway, and last week I dusted off an older project and began writing it. It’s a different kind of novel–more of a mystery and perhaps less emotionally intense. Bay City was rather dark and moody–like me sometimes. I constructed a scant three-act outline for Bay City and jumped right in because it was primarily a character-driven novel, I gave myself a lot of freedom with it, loosely aiming for the outline. I feel good about the results, but this new book is a different animal.
I feel like writing a mystery has to be tighter, so I’m taking a more structured approach. I wrote succinct character descriptions and fleshed out a much more detailed outline–chapter-by-chapter. I have some qualms about doing it this way. I don’t want to over-plan. I want room for spontaneity and organic development, but I have more pieces motion in order to make it the ending pop like a good mystery.
In some ways, it’s easier to write with such thorough planning. I take a peek at the chapter description (usually a couple of sentences) and begin typing with the goal in mind. But I leave plenty of room to surprise myself. For me, writing fiction is strongly akin to reading fiction. It’s true that I have a very strong idea about what’s going to happen, but I don’t know exactly how that will translate into words and scenes. I get to enjoy it as it unfolds. I get to be the very first reader!
A book has a life of its own. It’s easy to say, “Well, David. You’re the author you have total control over everything that happens. You’re the God of this world.” In a sense, that is true, but that’s not my understanding of God. Yes, I believe God can do whatever the hell he or she wants, but that doesn’t mean he does it. God gives us free will and watches our lives unfold, sometimes working closely with us, sometimes just along for the ride. I feel that my characters have some level of freedom to do what makes sense for them. I can’t always make them do what I want because I don’t really know entirely who they are when I begin writing. A common remark from my small circle of readers is that the characters feel so real. Perhaps that is part of it.
Another thing I’m doing differently is formatting a bit more as I write. I’m writing in MS Word, which is how I format and produce a file for Amazon KDP, but in the past, I’ve written in Google Docs. The problem with Google Docs, for me, was that it was so much work to take a Google document and format it for print and Kindle. I’m hoping to save some time and formatting errors by doing it this way; the risk is that it will pull me out of the creative flow.
I’m also not in a feverish rush. I wrote Bay City in a manic fever, perhaps worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish it. But I’ve done it now! I know I can write a novel! I’m taking a steady, relaxed pace–enjoying myself! I have no deadline and very little riding on this…
except for my hopes and dreams, of course.