Friday, June 6, 2008

Starting a Novel

March Novel Madness inspired me to start my first novel, having already written four nonfiction titles and a picture book called Sail Away, Little Boat.

I have had several novel ideas filling my noggin for the last three decades. The most compelling characters have shouldered their way into my life, and have reached the head of the queue. It was time to pick one and write it. I chose a funnier, lighter story. My goal in getting the story down on the page was to write fast and loose – not sweating any details.

And, so, I began. I wrote what I already knew about my main character and the others who populate her life. It was pretty easy, since I had already given myself permission to be imperfect. I had also given myself permission to not write an actual novel from beginning to end. My March Novel Madness experience would be character sketches, dialog, scenes, notes to self, explorations.

As the writing came, so did things I didn't expect. The first surprise was a character who all of a sudden showed up at my doorstep (figuratively speaking here . . .). Wow. She appeared so suddenly, it made me absolutely giddy. She introduced herself as newcomers often do. I didn't find out everything about her right away, which is pretty much the way you get to know any new friend. The slowly unraveling details created a tension that was kind of . . . um . . . delicious.

There were more surprises along the way. An adult character named Lorraine turned out to be funny, but not in the traditional sense of funny – Paula Poundstone funny. Her extreme conservatism in manner had me laughing out loud.

My zero draft – the dumping of everything I'd known about this story – had turned into a discovery draft.

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