I'm floating high above Book Nirvana - have finished reading one masterful novel, and now started another one that has knocked my socks off in the first chapter. Heaven!
'Scuse me-ee-eee ......
... while I kiss the sky ....
Being lost in a good book has only one drawback for me. As I read, I think I'll remember all those places where the author showed incredible skill, worded something beautifully, made a light bulb click on over my head. But no. I'm instantly caught back up in the story, and I forget. Scribbling little notes in the margins doesn't help. When I go back, I see jotted words, and recognize that's my writing, but cannot for the life of me figure out what I meant.
So, since it's the first of November, and officially NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I wanted to share two things, quickly before I forget, that may be helpful to those taking the novel-in-a-month challenge.
Regular Femmes readers may remember how much I love Dean Koontz. ODD APOCALYPSE, the fifth Odd Thomas book, is the one I just finished, and boy was it a good one. DK is the winner and still champion. I love this series. He has written dozens of best-sellers over the last thirty years.
And yet ....
Someone sent me a clipping from an old Writers Almanac show this week about Mr. Koontz's writing process. Here's a little from it:
" ...Rather than writing a quick first draft and coming back to it later, he revises each page of the novel, however long it takes ...before he feels good moving on to write the next page. He said, "I began this ceaseless polishing out of self-doubt, as a way of preventing self-doubt from turning into writer's block: by doing something with the unsatisfactory page, I wasn't just sitting there brooding about it."
He said: "I have more self-doubt than any writer I've ever known. ... The positive aspect of self-doubt — if you can channel it into useful activity instead of being paralyzed by it — is that by the time you reach the end of a novel, you know precisely why you made every decision in the narrative, the multiple purposes of every metaphor and image."
Dean Koontz, who takes on evil monsters and repeatedly saves the world, has self-doubts? Hard to believe, huh?
Encouragement #1: Take heart, NaNo people. Don't let doubts keep you from going forward, whether you're writing super-fast or at a trot, this month or the rest of the year. Fast writing can produce great things, but don't sweat it if your keyboard isn't clicking as loud and furiously as everyone else's in Starbucks.
The other thing I want to share is from the book I just started reading.
The first page of Ruth Rendell's SHAKE HANDS FOREVER is a master class in writing fiction all by itself. Here are the first six sentences:
"The woman standing under the departures board at Victoria station had a flat rectangular body and an iron-hard rectangular face. A hat of fawn-colored corrugated felt rather like a walnut shell encased her head, her hands were gloved in fawn-colored cotton, and at her feet was the durable but scarcely used brown leather suitcase she had taken on her honeymoon forty-five year before. Her eyes scanned the scurrying commuters while her mouth grew more and more set, the lips thinning to a hairline crack.
"She was waiting for her son. He was one minute late and his unpunctuality had begun to afford her a glowing satisfaction. She was hardly aware of this pleasure and, had she been accused of it, would have denied it, just as she would have denied the delight all failure and backsliding in other people brought her."
Rendell went straight for it, didn't she? Very little description of her surroundings, but notice how they move the reader's eye - up to the boarding sign, down in steps to "see" her head, hands, feet, to the suitcase, then scan out over the crowd. Up, down and out to give dimension, and then back in for the close-up of lips tightening, a final movement.
Setting, done. Next, we move in, and get a glance at her inner dimensions. It's interesting and believable, easy to match that with her appearance. Now, fast forward a number of pages where she is being questioned by the police. Wexford asks normal questions, easy to answer, what one would expect in the circumstances, but her behavior is totally out of line. She won't give him a straight answer. She's beligerent for no reason. He is baffled, but the reader already knows what she's like, thanks to the insight Rendell gives about her character before her meeting with Wexford.
So, Encouragement #2: If you get stuck and don't know what to write next, focus on a character in a scene. Move the camera all around him for the reader. Then, move into his thoughts to show something surprising about him. Try that with each character to build up their bios. That should help beef up your word count!
Good luck to all NaNoWriMo participants!