Monday, May 12, 2008

The accidental novelist

Here's a bit of encouragement for novel writers from Neil Gaiman's blog:

The second draft is where the fun is. In a first draft, you get to explode. The objective (at least for me) is to get it down on paper, somehow. Battle through the laziness and the not-enough-time and the this-is-rubbish and everything else, and just get it written. Whatever it takes. The second draft is where you go and gather together the fragments of the explosion and figure out what it is you did, and make it look like that was what you always meant to do.

Ah, yes. Make it look like you knew what you were doing all along. That's the art of writing fiction.

I have heard from a number of people who dream of being published in inspirational romance and have studied my books for clues on what makes a salable novel in that genre. Their e-mails have complimented me on things like my deft use of "symbolism" in Chapter Three and the subtle "foreshadowing" in Chapter Six. I can't tell you how often (well, I could, but it would make me look needy and pathetic) I find myself reaching for my dog-eared copy of the book in question to see if I really am as clever as these correspondents think.

Very often, I am not. Because those reader/writers are bringing their own experience and values to my stories, they're making assumptions about what I intended. But that's okay. It just means their imaginations are working hard. And if they can learn something or get inspired by reading my book five times and counting the pages in each of my chapters or studying whatever symbolism and foreshadowing they believe they have found (I don't know; maybe I did accidentally slip some in), then I am delighted.


Jan Hoffman said...


Thanks for sharing this comment from Neil Gaiman. I think he got it exactly right, don't you?

Few writers unless they're a genius of the first order ever get it right on that first pass. It's in the second, third, fourth...nth rewrite that the writer begins to see and exploit the possibilities hidden in their original mind dump.

Foreshadowing, symbolism and all that "literary stuff" emerge in the polishing - either consciously or un. Rewrites are where the real work in writing gets done -- and where the author shows herself to be smart, clever and brilliant in the process.

When we buy one of your books to enjoy and study, we're seeing a thoroughly vetted manuscript, one which you've gone over with your editor many times before your book hits the shelf.

My take is that on every pass you've found ways to ante up the tension/entertainment value for your readers in the finished product. A finished product, I might add, that gives the rest of us ideas for the possibilities in our own messy first drafts.

Someone far wiser than I said there are no great writers -- there are just great rewriters! True?

Though you doth protest too much, my dear, you really are that clever. And it's one more reason this inspy writer will be looking for your next book as soon as it hits the shelves and gratefully stealing whatever ideas and techniques I can glean from it.

Brenda Coulter said...

Oh, Jan, you sound like such a sweetheart. Thanks for all the warm fuzzies.

I enjoy every part of the writing process, but rewriting is by far my favorite. I know some authors find rewriting tedious and can't wait to get through it, but I see it as a challenge to improve my work one word or phrase at a time. I'll often spend as much as an hour diddling over a single paragraph, trying to find a way to make it "sing."

Maybe some of that enthusiasm shows in the final product. I hope so.

Kristin said...

Rewriting/Editing is my favorite part, too...because the book is, in essence, finished! The beginning, middle, and end are all there. And that is usually when I can see where I need to clean things up a bit (or a lot). The first draft usually is a mind dump...but every time I start a new book, there is less dumpiness in my first drafts. I can think through things a lot better now that I've finished quite a few books, novellas, and short stories.

My favorite writing memory was a poetry contest we had to enter in high school. My English teacher shared my poems with another teacher I had had the year before...he thought it was brilliant, he found symbolism and meaning in there that I didn't even intend....use of words that he thought was intentional. It was all quite humorous to me...but I was flattered nonetheless.

Brenda Coulter said...

he thought it was brilliant, he found symbolism and meaning in there that I didn't even intend....

For some reason that reminded me of the way some people rhapsodize over wines, using all kinds of descriptions that nobody really understands. I have heard wines called "humorous," "sleepy," and "pretentious." What's up with all that?