Humbled & Developing a Novel Idea

It’s been a heady week for me, watching my page view hits rack up on Yahoo! Voices.  The story and poem are still featured so I’m waiting to see where that run ends, but I had a humbling moment yesterday as well.  I finally actually looked at the poem since I put it up and realized, to my chagrin, that I had transposed two stanzas so that the rhyme scheme was not proper for a villanelle.  In a villanelle, the last line of each stanza is supposed to alternate.  The way it was displayed, stanzas 3 and 4 ended with the same line.  Ah, well. I consoled myself with the delusion that only a poet would notice.  (I certainly didn’t.)  I fixed it and had a bit of a laugh at my own expense.

Moving right along, I’m getting ready for CampNaNoWriMo.  Are you?  I won’t pretend that I actually intend to write 50,000 words in June, but I’m using it as a catalyst to get my new novel off the ground.  Before June 1st, I’ll continue to read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and make notes for the novel as I find inspiration.  This weekend I hope to fill out the character, setting and plot sheets I found online.

The novel I’m going to write is based on my own short story, Biomalware.  (Hubris, anyone?), I’ll try to give you an idea of how I’m using Writing the Breakout Novel to help me develop this short story into a novel.

Biomalware is about a young, widowed father who takes his two year old daughter to the doctor’s office because every time she eats, she’s in pain.  She only eats when the hunger overcomes her fear of the pain.  The doctor writes the father a prescription that should help but the nurse slips the father a note telling him that there’s someone who can help more.  He goes out to the place on the note and the farmer there tells him it’s GMO crops contaminating all our food that has made it indigestible for his daughter.

My writer’s group strongly urged me to turn this into a novel.  I decided to take their advice but obviously the story needs a lot of developing to sustain a novel.  Writing the Breakout Novel is helping me marshal my thoughts to do that.  I’ll give some examples of advice from the book and how it has inspired my thinking.

Maass says that it is important to try to capture the times of your story.  In my case, that would be current day or 2012.  What things catch my attention in the news?  There’s the polarization of people over issues, the different political parties, dissenting factions over gay rights, anti abortion activism is on the rise, and corporate rights seem to trump the individual all too often these days.  I’m not sure what will work into my story, perhaps all of them over the course of it, but the last one seems particularly appropriate as I recall a certain corporation taking farmers to court because their seeds were contaminated by the corporation’s GMO seeds through cross pollination.

Maass suggests you should try to “shatter your protagonist with a tragedy or give him an unexpected gift.”  That got me thinking. I could have the kid die, though I don’t know if I could stand to do that.  I could definitely flashback to how he lost his wife.  I could have him get the medicine and have the kid get worse, perhaps from malnutrition because, though the medicine is masking the symptoms, the food is still not being absorbed by her body properly.  I like the latter two ideas best.

“I would like to suggest that there are two character qualities that leave a deeper, more lasting and powerful impression of a character than any other: Forgiveness and self-sacrifice,” Maass says.  My character seems to have the self-sacrifice thing nailed down.  He’s a single, widowed, father who is going to go to extremes to help his own child, and other children like her.  Now, where can I bring forgiveness into it?  The doctor?  The father may be angry with him for pushing the medicine but the doctor wants to help and has probably simply accepted the party line fed to him (though he has also ignored the warnings of the nurse as new age mumbo jumbo.)  He has failed his patient to some degree, but not out of malice.  There is room for forgiveness here.

I’m about halfway through the book and I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish it before the 1st, but perhaps.  It’s exciting and intimidating to contemplate starting a novel again.  I just hope I can go the distance.

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Writing Excitement

It’s been an exciting week for me.  I logged into my Yahoo! Voices account on Friday to check how many hits I had.  I’ve been watching for a few weeks, looking forward to the day when I hit the 30,000 hits mark but it’s been inching up very slowly.  Well, I logged in and saw 38,000 plus!  (Over 58,000 at this point.) What happened?  They must have featured something more of mine.  I went to the Yahoo! Voices page and clicked on Creative Writing to see which one had been featured.  Imagine my surprise to find TWO of my most recent entries enjoying top building on the main page! 

My first ten pages of Devolution, that I had submitted as a short story, has the biggest picture and my villanelle poem, Regrets: A Confessional Villanelle, has the second slot.  I finally got smart last night and added a link to the end of that piece of Devolution to the continuation of the story.  Hopefully that will double up any more hits I get.  It’s not a heck of a lot of money but every little bit helps with my debt reduction plan.  What’s more exciting, though, is just seeing the hits climb, knowing that people are reading my writing.  I do wish more people would leave comments telling me what they think, but I suppose that could go either way if they did.  Best to just enjoy the fact that they’re reading.

The other exciting thing this week has been thinking about starting a new novel.  Planning a new piece of writing is almost as good as actually writing it.  I’ve started reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, again, and it’s making me think about turning my short story, Biomalware, into a novel.  One of the things he says is that a story has to be plausible.  It could happen in real life.  Well, as I was telling a member of our writer’s group about it Thursday night, his eyes got wider and he said, “That is fiction, isn’t it?”  A good sign, I’d say.  My writer’s group members are the ones who originally said it should be a novel rather than just a short story.  The Donald Maass book is helping me make connections and plan layers.  I’m thinking I might actually write a bit of an outline.

Some people outline and some people prefer to just forge ahead, leave the complexity to their subconscious.  I’ve been the latter most of the time.  When I do outline I have a tendency to lose interest in the story.  But if I’m going to do a really full size novel with lots of complexity, I think I may need an outline.  A road map, of sorts.  I’ll probably try to keep it simple and fluid.  I think I’m getting a writer’s high.  🙂

Time and Space

Do you ever feel like you’re not accomplishing much, sort of spinning your wheels, even though you’ve been writing?  That was me last week.  I finished writing a Villanelle titled Regrets, no small feat for me, and edited a chunk of a larger story into a short story, Devolution: The Beginning.  I turned both in to Yahoo Voices!  and they’ve been published.  But I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything lately.  I even wrote a new poem that I rather like.  Still, not getting that feeling of accomplishment.

I wonder if, perhaps, it’s because I’m not working on what I feel I should be working on write now… a novel.  I’ve put Writing the Breakout Novel in my bag to take to work with me and I’ll start reading.  I don’t have anything else on the schedule that I have committed to so I’m free to read that and start working on the novel.  A novel in six months?  Why not?  We write short, choppy ones in one month during November every year.  If I take one I’ve started, surely I can finish drafting it by the end of the year and have something far superior to what I’ve turned out in any November in the past six years.

Or perhaps it’s because I’m not writing daily?  There’s no consistency to my efforts.  I’m pretty much on a deadline approach to my writing most of the time which isn’t very conducive to creativity.  I need some creative space.

Or perhaps my well of creativity is simply running low.  I need a little inspirational rain.

All good things worth a try.  Read, write and take in something inspirational.  Hmmm, when?  Well, there’s the drive to work to think about my writing.  Sometimes that helps with the creativity and I come up with a few lines that I can jot down when I get there.  Lunch time is a little easier to read than write.  The evening is pretty well given over to taking care of the munchkin.  Sometimes I can read or write a little after I get her in bed, if I’m not too tired to be creative.

That doesn’t leave much time for creativity.  It won’t be easy, but I know it can be done because others have.  Time to make the most of every minute we can.  We can do this.  We can give ourselves over to the creative process and the novel will come forth.  Believe in the magic.  Heck, it built a baseball diamond.  Or was that a book?

Short Forms of Writing Into Long

I seem to naturally gravitate toward the short forms of writing – short stories, poems, flash fiction, essays, blog posts, etcetera.  I’ve written many short stories and essays over the years – for myself, for school and for publication.  I don’t think it’s any easier, but I like being able to bring something full circle and complete it in a shorter time span – sort of how some people prefer to read short stories because they are constantly being interrupted by kids and life.

I admit I haven’t written much haiku.  Heck, I don’t feel like I’ve written much lately, period.  But a poet recently challenged a group I attended to take another look at haiku and give it a try.  I fully intend to do that.  I’ve been writing a fair bit of poetry in general.  I’m working on a villanelle at the moment.  It made me think about what I write and what type of writing I gravitate toward.  So, here’s my thinking…

I’m more a prose writer than a poet… but I like to write poetry so I do.  Likewise, I am more comfortable with the short form but I want to write a novel.  How to translate that short form into a novel?  Well, I’ve gone the other way – breaking the beginning of a novel I wrote into short stories, so there’s my answer.  Write each chapter as a short story that is self-contained but also connected to the next.

Harken back to the episodic style of writing in radio dramas like Star Wars and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  (I admit just saying those names gets me excited about writing again.)  Big Fish is a novel that seemed to be a series of short stories strung together.  Each chapter, or vignette, was self-contained but the sum of the whole proved greater than the parts.

I can do this.  There will be a novel this year.