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Help with novel writing

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
I have come to a point where I have written all of the really obvious sections of my novel (except the ending) and now I'm getting to the bulk. I stalled. I don't know where to go. I've got about 17,500 words and 59 double spaced pages. So, I go online and research some novel writing tips, and found an article that really recommended outlining. I've done that now, and I still don't know where to begin. Of course there are more things to write, but I feel like I should go back in and work it linear now. Just read and write where there are apparent holes or more description is needed. Anyone have any suggestions?

Also, there is going to be a religious theme in the novel, but it is literary... not a religious novel. The characters are going to become religious as a means to deal with their problems. I am a person of faith and I worry that I will make the writing too sappy or alienate those persons not of "faith" or however I should describe that. That is not the goal. Any suggestions on things to keep in mind when writing a religious themed work for readers of all faiths or those who are strictly secular? I'm not proselytizing.
post #2 of 24
Endings are hard for me and it seems like I just ultimately stumble upon them - so no advice, because I wouldn't recommend that!

However, in regards to the religious aspect of your work. I would suggest that you make sure that the characters never know more than the reader. Does that make sense? Their faith needs to be organic, not imposed on them, to the extent that it seems so natural to the evolution of the character that the reader can go with it. Even though it can be a sudden transformation, transformation itself must already be a plausible possibility for the character. Would he/she really choose that route? Is that built in to the character?

My grandmother's book just came out (it's a memoir that was edited after her death, about her life in a concentration camp, etc. etc. etc. in and after WWII). One of the things that I really hate about the book is that it was appropriated by the editors as a religious text. Sure, she was a religious person, and she'd be very pleased if someone's faith was bolstered by having read the book, but it wasn't natural to the story. The seeds were not there, in the writing. They approached the story with that objective from the start and "slapped on" a religious ending, such that it's sort of jarring, and you're left with a "Huh? Where'd that come from?" I think that they likely could have figured out a way to sow the seeds within the main body of the story to make us believe that she would become as religious as they make her in the end.

I know that I'm talking about nonfiction, and you're talking about fiction, but I do think storytelling is storytelling.
post #3 of 24
Mine is a political memoir, but it's essentially the same journey I wish to take my reader on by the looks.

Have you examined 'The Hero's Journey'? You might find some inspiration in the archetypes that guide you in your character's journey. Otherwise, I agree with the previous poster who said let the character and reader share the same journey. I really don't want to beat my reader over the head with a stick, but by the end I want the reader to have shared the journey of doubts and challenges and eventually acquire an expanded point of view.
post #4 of 24
Thread Starter 
Thanks mamas. That's exactly what I am trying to do. Have my reader go on the journey with this character, and understand how faith is his final solution to the conflict. It won't only be religious faith, but faith in his love for his spouse. I think I'll just let it come naturally without giving that part too much pre-thought.

Anyone have any suggestions for thickening a novel? How much time do you spend on creating a visual setting for your reader? I'm trying to just weave setting into the action of the story and am debating adding a few paragraphs here and there of setting description... and then I think that that is too obvious. But, then I live in the place where my novel is set, so maybe it's just obvious to me. Novel is an interesting form.
post #5 of 24
"Anyone have any suggestions for thickening a novel?"

Create a subplot for your main character that intensifies or enhances the depth of the first story arc. If you already have your main story arc fleshed out, a secondary plot can give the reader a deeper insight into the main character's strengths and weaknesses and also provide more 'value' for your reader.

You could throw another twist into the main storyline also. Google 'snowflake theory for fiction writers' or similar and you'll find a ready-made principle for plotting a fiction novel.
post #6 of 24
Originally Posted by eastkygal View Post
Anyone have any suggestions for thickening a novel?
Keep writing.

I don't think one should ever just write to get more pages, though. I can totally tell when one of my students has done this, and I've also been irked when reading novels where it was apparent that the author had some preconceived notion about acceptable page length.

That said, if you need more "thickness," then perhaps it's because there's something that's missing that you might want to explore more. You said that you're concerned about putting in too much setting. I have never read a book that had too much setting. In fact, what I like most is when a book can really take me somewhere I've never been, and it doesn't have to be somewhere exotic. Maybe you should try walking through the "place" of your novel with a stranger's eye. John Gardner said it better than I can, ""Detail is the lifeblood of fiction." In fact, most of what he says in his book On Becoming a Novelist, as well as his other books on writing, is pretty great.

Scene setting can do as much meaning-making, I think, than dialogue - often more.
post #7 of 24
First I would like to say that I am a novice, so please take anything I say with a grain of salt (see - relies on old sayings, can't find her own words, etc...)

Right on AndVeeGeeMakes3 - John Gardner was an amazing writing teacher --- his two books on writing (The Art of Fiction, and On Becoming a Novelist) are excellent and have helped me immensely. That said, the only novel of his that I've read (Nickel Mountain) was, although a moving book, a little HEAVY on setting. IMO setting can be overdone.

A very light/rough outline at some point early in the writing process helped me out a lot, but it is a guideline, not a rulebook, and I allow my characters to deviate from the agenda whenever they see fit, or when I change my mind after knowing them better.

For me (and I know others work differently) my novel seems to grow organically when the pencil is in my hand, although very often when I'm doing something else I suddenly "know" what's going to happen in three chapters. A very strange process indeed!

My advice is to write, write, write, perhaps without knowing what you will say, and follow a path if you see one. Or paths. You have room in a novel to explore.

The religious question is too far from my knowledge base to comment.

Good luck!
post #8 of 24
Originally Posted by JennyClaire View Post
IMO setting can be overdone.
Of course, you are right. Too much of a good thing (ah, cliches!! ) . . . .

I should clarify that I'm talking about there never being too much scenery in a first draft, or, even maybe the first several drafts!
post #9 of 24
Thread Starter 
Okay, I am stuck and no words for this novel are coming easy. I have been working with the Snowflake method for a few days now actually. I tried to go back into it and write today and it was like beating limestone with a rubber hammer. I have 18,000 words that are written in several different areas of the novel and were written out of order. I know... a mess.
I think that I may even have too much going on. I am writing in 3rd person limited from the POV of two characters who are a young married couple. They are barely 20. They are both insecure. The guy has a father who left when he was 12 and hasn't seen in eight years. The girl has given up dreams because she became pregnant and had their first child before they were married. So, they have a young baby, the guy begins a new job, they purchase a trailer, the trailer burns, the girl finds herself pregnant again with a 6 month old, and the estranged father returns to make amends. I swear I'm not trying to write a soap opera.
I have bits and pieces written in all of these areas and I'm trying to tie it together at this point and give more depth to my characters and setting. I'm trying not to fall into the trap of writing pages and pages of background info or tangents of the character's personal thoughts/reasoning. You know... show don't tell. Urgh!
post #10 of 24
I have been there too.

My novice advice is to assume you will do a rewrite. What you're writing now is likely to become an entirely different permutation of your original story by the polished end of the manuscript. Just keep writing. The next round of drafting and editing is where the story really starts to become full. Allow yourself to write complete crap for now and you'll know when you're writing the stuff that's for keeps. Just keep writing.
post #11 of 24
I had always always heard that mantra "show don't tell." And then my mentor and friend (Richard Bausch) said to toss that out of the window - especially when you're writing the first draft. Sometimes you need that to push through. And sometimes the reader needs that as a relief from the motoring feeling that can come from too much "showing." People like Joyce did a whole lot of telling I'm discovering. In fact, as I've been reading lately I've noticed a whole lot of showing everywhere (I'm into Lorrie Moore, big time, right now). And, as long as it's not too didactic or preachy, it can work.

MarsupialMom is right - just assume it's a first draft. Write more more more. Sometimes the tangents become the heart of the story.

Another thing that Bausch "preaches" is that close third is really problematic (or can be). We, as readers, like to know more than the characters, otherwise it's all a ruse. Try pulling back a little bit - write about your characters, not just what they're doing. Even if you trash that later (because there is no such thing as a perfect first draft, in fact all first drafts are "shitty."), the work of rounding out your characters is never a wrong thing.

Also, if it's kind of autobiographical - LET.IT.GO. Either you're writing fiction, or you ought to just switch to memoir (which is fine and great too!).
post #12 of 24
Thread Starter 
It's not autobiographical at all. It would probably be easier if it was. It is characters that I've written about before though in short story form, which is the form I am most comfortable and sure about. So, I know them well. I know their background, and I'm trying to make this not a telling of their background, but a continuation of their great story. Not sure if that makes sense. I am going to plug away.
post #13 of 24
Originally Posted by eastkygal View Post
Okay, I am stuck and no words for this novel are coming easy. I have been working with the Snowflake method for a few days now actually. I tried to go back into it and write today and it was like beating limestone with a rubber hammer. I have 18,000 words that are written in several different areas of the novel and were written out of order. I know... a mess.
I just googled the snowflake method and discovered that it wouldn't work for me at all because whatever creativity I have comes from sitting down with the pencil, NOT from the planning/structure. For me, the pencil brings out the story. I think with literary fiction you can get away with the simple pen to paper method more easily than in other genres.

Maybe take a break for a few days, and then sit back down, and, as the other posters have suggested, WRITE WRITE WRITE. Don't even think about it. Put the characters in your mind and just a word or two on the page to get you going. It may end up being crap, or wonderful. But the crap will help you know what's going on as much as the fabulous. When I used to look back at something I'd written that sucked, I'd think, "yuck, I can't write for ____!" Now I look at the same thing and laugh, thinking, "oh, that sure needs a rewrite," and when it's rewritten it looks entirely different, 80% better, with the original intention clearly brought forward. But I never would have gotten there without the crappy (often heavily cliched) first draft. Don't be afraid of bad writing. As Ms. Frizzle would say, It's time to get messy, take chances, make mistakes!"

I've almost finished my 1st draft, but am crazy to start my full rewrite.

BTW - "beating limestone with a rubber hammer" - I like that!
post #14 of 24
Originally Posted by AndVeeGeeMakes3 View Post
People like Joyce did a whole lot of telling I'm discovering. In fact, as I've been reading lately I've noticed a whole lot of showing everywhere (I'm into Lorrie Moore, big time, right now). And, as long as it's not too didactic or preachy, it can work.!).
do you mean telling?
post #15 of 24
Originally Posted by AndVeeGeeMakes3 View Post
all first drafts are "shitty."
post #16 of 24
Another idea is to leave the novel for several weeks, and work on something else. When I finished my 1st and second drafts, my novel was 48K, and I was convinced it couldn't grow any longer. After a break, and several more revisions, it is at 60K. Still very short for a novel (ideally it should be 72K, I was told by agents). I'm letting it sit for a bit, and I think it can grow to 65K
post #17 of 24
Originally Posted by midnightwriter View Post
do you mean telling?
duh, yeah! that didn't make any sense at all did it?

And I totally agree about leaving it alone for a little while.
post #18 of 24
Thread Starter 
So, I'm plugging away whether it's good or not and working linear. Reading what I have and filling in where needed. I'm finding that I'm writing more of the characters personal thoughts at this time which is kind of new for me as you don't really do that too much in short story. Same as the show don't tell. But, I can't seem to find a way to create action for every thought that needs revealed. I'm beginning to think there is no need. These characters are growing through thinking about experiences.
post #19 of 24
I was/am in the same situation. I had about 65 pages and had written all the scenes I knew I wanted to write except the big one. I even had done the ending. So I had the beginning, the end, and a little middle. I found this helpful, someone here mentioned it I think.


I find I write better if I know what the scene is, even just one sentence. So now I have a list and really enjoyed the last scene I wrote. Then we went out of town and now I'm sick. but I plan to get on it on Monday.

I also second the idea of just finishing the first draft. That's my aim.

I'm also doing a novel with religious themes and am worried about lecturing. I am planning on taking care of that in later drafts. For now, I just am putting down my ideas, even if they get cut.

good luck.
post #20 of 24
Thread Starter 
I'm at 25,000 words!!! I'm about halfway through the novel working linear at this point. The climax is coming up. My biggest fear is that I'll get to the last few paragraphs and realize it is only 40,000 words. Does that John Gardener talk about things like bulking up a novel, or making it cohesive? I'm thinking about buying a book about novelling.
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