Lost in the Novel

Quick, somebody help me. I have to give a talk next Tuesday on THE NOVEL. Actually, I got myself into this fix, because the library here asked me to give a talk, and several months ago I gave them a topic. “How about, ‘Lost in the Novel,'” I said while multi-tasking. Before I could reconsider, it was advertised.

Ever wonder how a novelist stays on track in the trackless desert of a really long novel? (Reads the blurb . . .) Me too!

No, no, I must know how to do this! I’ve published eight novels, and written ten, several of which are on their way to publication even as I type this blog.

My new book, Bright of the Sky, will be out from Pyr in April. This is my biggest concept yet, an epic kind of story, situated–in genre–somewhere between science fiction and fantasy. I’ll be blogging about this more in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, I have a talk to give. About how to NOT get lost in the novel. Haven’t I proven I know how to stay organized and get to “the end”? Yeah, but every time I write a novel, there is a slightly different path. Does it Ever get more routine–that is, does staying on track in the trackless desert ever get easier? I should ask that of someone who’s written 20 or 30 of the things.

But all right, how do I plan to write and stick to the plan? Here are my first thoughts.

1. Give my major characters deep and urgent goals. Give the protagonist the highest stake goal that makes sense. Make her/him the sort of person who stays on task, who Must, because of some unchanging aspect of themselves. This feature alone will help me bring my story back to its essence when I am feeling lost. With the major character in Bright of the Sky–Titus Quinn–that has been my compass through, by now, over 800 pages of novel.

2. Know what the climactic scene is. Conceive of it as highly dramatic, tense, memorable. Write to that scene. The whole book is a build-up to that scene. Make it worth it. If I can’t think of such a scene, scrap plans and begin over. Yup, it really worked in Bright of the Sky. I loved writing that scene, and knowing it was waiting for me helped me write the 50 scenes before I got to it.

3. Write an outline. Rewrite outline until it’s so good you can’t wait to write the actual novel.

4. As I begin to wonder “what comes next,” and if the outline doesn’t help, write a “step sheet” quickly outlining the next four or so scenes. This gives the “near view,” and provides reassurance that you have the next few days’ work organized.

5. Keep a sequential scene list. Write a 3-4 line summary of what’s in the scene I wrote today. Print it out every day. As I progress, make notes in pencil on the scene list of things to change. Otherwise, how can you keep track of new insights and noted mistakes?

From the above comments, you may assume that I plan my novels quite a bit. Yes, and I have to say I think that is the way to keep from getting lost. And to keep from starting over, sparing myself those agonizing, long rewrites. And to keep from stumbling to my knees in the middle of the desert without a drop of water left in the old canteen.

Oh, and by the way, this is my first blog. Glad to be here. Anyone out there?