I’ve been so hung up on getting my Homicidal Tendencies novel written that I passed the 200 page mark 51 pages ago without posting a novel report. I wrote the first 100 pages in 3 weeks. The second 100 took six weeks. The first police chapter came up at page 170 and brought my writing to a stop.
The chapters about the normal main characters move forward just fine. I can write them from life experience. The criminal characters are easy to write too. I love crime novels and movies, and I’ve known many people with criminal pasts both minor and major. But, the police chapters are like stepping into a swamp. At first I thought it was because I haven’t had any police officers as friends. But, I have had friends in the police and military. And I’ve read plenty of detective and mystery novels. What’s the real problem?
Action. That’s the problem. The police are investigating what’s already happened. Dry. Not so fun to read and thus not so fun to write. I don’t want to bore my readers.
The recent Scandinavian invasion of mystery thrillers provides a good model for putting action into a mystery. Stieg Larsson, Liza Marklund, and Jo Nesbo all make their mysteries interesting by keeping the action going. The villains are active, not passive like in many mysteries of the past.
Since the action keeps building in my novel, the only problem is that the police chapters are slow. I’ve now added one more type of revision to be done after the first draft is complete: Review all chapters for unnecessary conversations and exposition.
Part of these novel reports is sharing what I’ve learned along the way to writing my novel. Keeping the action moving is the first tip.
Make Something Happen
I saw this suggested as the most important point for fiction writing recently on Storyfix. The call for action doesn’t mean dropping conversation and description. It means keeping it to the minimum necessary to move the story forward.
Does this mean character development is out the window? Not at all. Just follow the longstanding rule of “show, don’t tell”. Instead of describing their character traits, tell a short story showing how they act under pressure.
The same goes for conversations. Are they just sitting around talking or is something happening? Tell us about traffic problems while they drive across town. Mention the smoker lighting up and the other character’s reactions. When it’s a long conversation, there are interruptions in real life. What interrupts the conversation in your story?
Quality Can Be Counter-Intuitive
Logic would suggest that a good story needs to be carefully planned and written.
When writing the first draft of a novel, quality can’t be the prime directive or the job may never get done. It’s all going to be revised. Let perfectionism take over and the writing will move at a snails pace or stop completely.
Since I’ve written 29 chapters so far, I have a good idea what speed works best. When I go back and read a chapter I had trouble with and wrote slowly, it’s a slow read and will need heavy revision or re-writing. When I read a chapter that went fast, it’s a fast read and looks a lot like final draft quality.
I’ve noticed what makes it easy to write a chapter quickly. It’s a good chapter synopsis and a good Notes file. A chapter’s worth of points to be worked through allows conversations and action to flow wherever they would in real life. The next step is waiting to be written and the story moves right along. The Notes file prevents me from stopping to search the manuscript for details like what car someone drives or the personality type of a minor character.
The police chapters have been slow primarily because they have short descriptions in the synopsis. They were a late addition because I didn’t think I needed them for the story. There would be police at work in a city where people are being killed, but they don’t seem entirely necessary for my story. They may disappear during the “cut big” revision depending on whether they advance the plot.
The solution for my slow police chapters is starting each by writing a better list of chapter points in the outline. Now I’m doing that for any chapter with a short synopsis.
True Fiction Will Destroy Your Writing Plan
Even though a novel is fiction, the story needs to be told the way it really happened. That’s what went right in the chapters I wrote fast and that looked good. The conversations and action moved in directions they really would. Sometimes the points outlined in the synopsis got moved around because one of the characters had more interest in something other than the current point. Sometimes unplanned events and minor stories appear.
Another thing that happens in real life, but gets missed in some stories, is dropping a subject. If only one character is interested in whether the shopkeeper is going to pull through, for example, the topic is going to be dropped. Ending topics early is also a good way to build suspense. There doesn’t even need to be an unanswered question. When the final topic of a chapter, or chapter section is done, you can end on a strong sentence instead of tying things up with goodbyes or drives home.
Chunking Multiple Projects
This method worked great for me in article writing. I know why I held off using it while writing my novel. The current chapter is the only one I can work on while writing the first draft. I already know I can write a 1000 word article. It’s writing a 100,000 word novel that’s my big challenge right now.
Chunking returned because I really need to write some articles. First because I like article writing and second because both of my blogs are drifting away from me. Like any relationship, they need a bit of attention now and then if they’re going to last.
Chunking is writing with time limits. Half hour and one hour chunks work best for me. Short time limits remove the temptation to take a short break to check email or update a spreadsheet. There isn’t time now, but there will be soon.
I just got back into this method yesterday and it’s already working. I had two chunks of my novel-in-progress and four of this article. Without chunking, the plan would have been five hours of my novel-in-progress and I would have been distracted by other interests that wouldn’t take as much time. Those other interests can waste the whole day if I’m stuck on the next line in my novel.
A plan that gets my novel moving ahead faster and lets me write more articles. What more could a writer ask for?
Article by Ivan Izo.