Phase 3A: Get Baking
You've sifted through a mound of ideas.
Found one you're convinced will rise to the occasion.
Crafted a truly exciting recipe.
Roll up your sleeves - this is when the real work begins.
It's about to get messy.
Your have your ingredients. The oven is pre-heated. You're about to work everything together. Knead it like dough. Pound it into shape. Twist it into something beautiful.
It's time to bake.
Time to write.
Rule #1: Write.
Rule #2: Refer to rule #1.
Oh, is something stopping you from writing? Oh dear! Oh no! Well then, you probably should . . .
How many people have I heard say, "I've got a great novel, I just need to write it."
A great novel, eh? Just need to write it? Huh.
That's like saying they understand the principles of flying, they just need to build an airplane.
Tools at Your Disposal
Tool #1: Discipline
Many a great writer has summed it up nicely:
Hate writing. Love having written.
Writing is a grind.
You hear voices in your brain that whine, "This will take too long!" and "Why bother?"
As I outlined in an earlier post, Reveille + Regimen, you have to find a schedule and a system that works for you to ensure you make progress.
My wife placed a helpful sign on my bookshelf, a black rectangle of lightweight wood sporting white letters - like a large domino resting on its side - that saves me daily:
Strive For Progress, Not Perfection
A time-tested, sanity-saving motto if ever there was one.
It's the first thing I see when I walk into my study, and it reminds me of what I need to do - plus it makes me think of my lovely wife, which reminds me of why I want to do it.
Tool #2: Literary Toolbox
Tense. Nouns. Pronouns. Verbs. Adjectives. Prepositions. Interjections.
These are the basic ingredients in your literary cupboard.
Symbolism. Metaphor. Personification. Pathetic fallacy. Hyperbole. Allusion. Alliteration. Allegory.
These are but a few of the many spices at your disposal. Use them wisely and with good taste.
Dramatic irony. Ticking clocks. Red herrings. Visual systems. Motifs. Macguffins. Foreshadowing. Psychic distance. Point of view. Suspense. Mystery.
These are your appliances. Use them to whip up your ingredients and spices. A big part of your job as a novelist is to understand how these appliances work!
Tool #3: Conflict
Turn up the heat.
Get your characters into hot water. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Roast 'em.
As outlined in a previous post, Three Levels of Conflict, no story moves without conflict.
Your character wants something badly and is having difficulty getting it.
Wants it BADLY!
Is having DIFFICULTY!
What does your character want? That's up to you - but make sure they want something, and that they really want it, even if it's just a Glass of Water.
ATTENTION: Your story needs tension.
Tool #4: Start At The Ending
Who starts baking without knowing what it's supposed to look like, smell like and taste like at the end?
Amateurs, I suppose.
Knowing where your story is heading, how it will ultimately end, was your homework.
That was pre-writing. You did that for a reason.
Since you know your protagonist needs to grow, to arc, to change irreversibly by the story's end, you now have a big clue about who they are at the beginning.
I wrote in Change Is The Only Constant that if nothing changes in your story, then you have no forward momentum. You have no story.
Story: irreversible change
Act: major change
Chapter or Scene or Sequence: moderate change
Not sure where to start? Look to the end.
Tool #5: Entertainment = Questions
You job is to generate questions in the mind of your reader.
Then delay giving them answers for as long as they can endure.
This is the art of storytelling. The tease. The hook. The engrossing distraction that keeps the barn burning.
Even still, there is a practical method on how to generate such questions.
What follows is a typical template for a scene or chapter.
But let me say this up front: deviation from this approach is not only encouraged, but often quite necessary.
This is a rudimentary assembly of the basic building blocks of a scene or chapter, in a particular order that reflects the narrative flow.
The reason writers need awareness of such a template is to keep in their minds, while writing, their reader's experience.
WHERE + WHEN: set the stage by telling us where we are in space and time.
WHO: depending on point-of-view, this is the character we are "with" at this moment.
WHAT: this is the character's focal point, their want. Can be: to get the boy's attention, to stop a runaway train from careening off a broken bridge, or to simply get a glass of water.
WHY: understanding the purpose behind the character's desire keeps the reader informed, up-to-speed on where the character is on their trajectory.
HOW: aha! This is the bulk of the telling, and the fun of the adventure. Need to stop that train? Here's how the hero does it! Dying of thirst in the dessert and desperately need a drink? This is how the character uses her last bit of energy to stumble over the final sand dune and into the oasis.
WHICH: yes, you need this. It's vital during the telling that the outcome is in doubt, that it can go two or more ways. Leave us unsure of the outcome until we get there. Magicians use misdirection to obscure their sleight-of-hand. Writers need to master that trick, too.
As mentioned, deliberate shifts away from this template can be very purposeful and effective, not only to introduce variety but also to support the theme, establish the plot, or even convey character.
Remember, your job as novelist is to create questions. Masterful storytellers seek to sculpt the questions carefully and cleverly in the reader's mind, then provide answers at only the most favourable moments.
Your heroine has amnesia? Doesn't know where she is? Then delay giving us the WHERE + WHEN so we're as lost as she is.
Your character wants to trap an enemy with a big surprise? Hold back on WHY they're doing it, and let the reader wonder throughout and then enjoy the sudden burst of understanding.
Don't want the reader to know yet how it all went down? Want to keep them in suspense? Then chop off the WHICH at the end to keep the outcome unknown for now.
The HOW is often the most enjoyable part, both to write and to read. This is where most of the action happens. The conveyance of the HOW depends on whether you want the audience "with" (suspense), "in front of" (dramatic irony) or "behind" (mystery) your character.
Keep the fires burning.
Keep the oven hot.
Write, even when you feel like it's all for nothing.
So how do we stay hungry?
As I mentioned in my Road Map post, there are many steps to be taken in an orderly way from idea to publication - no doubt the writing + rewriting phase is the biggest stretch on the journey. In part B of this post, I'll expand on the rewriting effort.
But for now, let me close by sharing a series of connectors I concocted to remind myself that the agony of writing is but one stage in this mad, beautiful, cyclical, novel adventure.
As I sit here, I write.
As I write, I progress.
As I progress, I gain confidence.
As I gain confidence, I solicit feedback.
As I solict feedback, I polish.
As I polish, I pursue publication.
As I pursue publication, I get paid.
As I get paid, I gain credibility.
As I gain credibility, I focus my time.
As I focus my time, I generate ideas.
As I generate ideas, I sit here.