Started the New Novel!

Current mood: content
Current mood: content

And it wasn’t as traumatic as all that. In fact, it felt natural, and as soon as I began writing, my anxiety drained away. Finished the first scene, and I’m okay with it for now. Gets me started.

However, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever be able to write “fast.” As in fast-paced…One of the things I’m doing differently this time is concentrating on suspense. As in, I’m going to write a suspense novel. I’m going to focus on pacing and plot. I’m going to have fun with it.

So, what do I do? Write a first scene that’s kinda quiet. I couldn’t write one of those wham-bam novels if I tried. And I am trying…I re-read the scene several times, feeling the usual self-doubt, but still overall, pleased at having started.

One thing I know about myself: I think symbolically, so without realizing it or particularly trying, I’ll have described something in the setting — for example, Christmas lights — and I’ll have described these lights in a way that illustrates my character’s mood, and then maybe a string flickers out, furthering the mood, inciting the character to reflect (but not for too long) on something…

Does that sound fast-paced to you?

Definitely not wham-bam, but, on the other hand, did I accomplish my first-scene goals? Grab quickly? Introduce an intriguing main character in conflict? End on an open-ended note? Introduce elements that will echo later?

I think so — I hope so. I guess we’ll see!

Lesson of the day: Accept my writing style while improving on my weaknesses.

Suspense and My Dog: A Lesson

Today makes four weeks since I adopted Luna. How’s it going? Has the dog adjusted? Better yet, have I? Was she a writing distraction?

All’s good, and the writing, no problema. I wrote about 75 pages in the past four weeks. I was eager to finish my first draft, true, but I’d also like to suggest a positive correlation between dog ownership and my writing output:

1. Boundaries: I suggest that having a canine boundary helps me manage my time and increase my efficiency. Luna forces my hand in the mornings, that’s for sure. Doesn’t matter that she goes back to sleep ten minutes later, she still jumps on the bed at a reasonably early (but not too early) hour.

2. Empty-brain time: My dog, she’s not sporty, not with her six-inch legs and lone eye. On walks, I slow way down and accept the trees and the sky and the screeing hawks as entertainment. In other words, I live in the moment. I suggest that this has helped my creativity.

And, last but not least:

3. Lessons in suspense: Luna and I play a game in which I tease her with my hands under a blanket. She goes after my hands with much growling (positively ferocious) and digging around and tail-wagging.

I suggest that the art of fictional suspense resembles the art of making a dog go wild with anticipation: judicious use of suspenseful pauses. In the blanket game, I freeze and Luna responds with paroxisms of spazziness. Remember being tickled as a child? It’s like that: When are the hands going to move? Where will they land? What the heck will happen next?

It struck me that novelistic suspense relies on the same type of tension. We see this all the time. Just when we’re getting somewhere, a scene ends, leaving us hanging while we move into the point of view of a different character. The old cliffhanger method as seen in many a thriller.

But not every novel is a thriller. Suspenseful pauses can function on subtle levels too. What I’m suggesting is that quiet moments can also add to overall suspense. Maybe these are character development scenes or set-up scenes for future action — these scenes must have a purpose, but not every scene must hurdle the reader around a loop-di-loop.

Quiet scenes can introduce complications, raise ancillary questions, spotlight inconsistencies in our characters, further subplots. They, in fact, can support the main story arc with underlying layers of unanswered questions, some to be answered sooner (will Biff call Buffy like he promised?), some to be answered later (why is Biff acting like such a jerk anyhow?). Unanswered questions raise suspense.

I suggest that what appears to be a cessation of suspenseful movement, isn’t (in the hands of an adept novelist). I’m no expert, of course, because I’m still learning how to handle suspense myself. I simply suggest that what I’ve pondered here, is indeed, worth pondering.

And, if Luna is any indication, anticipation never gets old.

P.S. Last Word on That Darned Climax Epiphany

Okay, enthused again. Crazy, the ups and downs of my writer’s life. After kvetching this morning (previous post), then getting down to work; after many hours at the computer to semi-fruitful end; after lazing around for awhile, I had a thought. Truly, this one felt like it popped out of a machine in my head. (BigD, you philosopher, you getting my drift?)

It seems I’d only had part one of my epiphany; I needed today’s part two to complete the thought.

It’s this: What I thought to be the logical and realistic scene locations to follow my climax bored the snot right back up into my sinuses. This was the source of my anticlimactic feeling. To think, even in fiction location location location can be everything.

In this case, a shift to an unexpected location (for me, the writer, that is) adds to suspense because my protagonist must act in a surprising way to get us to that location. But not out-of-character; in fact, more in character given his current emotional turmoil and stymied circumstances.

And, relating this back to this morning’s post: I see what I’m doing with suspense here. It’s not whodunit-plot-twist related; the added suspense comes straight out of character. I’m not against twists, don’t get me wrong, but for this story I do indeed want the answers to the questions I posed this morning to be “yes.”

This is the first time a shift in location (rather than, say, changing the point of view character, delaying a revelation, or cutting a useless scene) solved a story snafu. By golly, I’ve learned something! Now, this possibility will always be in my repertoire.

Angst and Bad Writing Juju

Yet another angst-ridden, as-yet-unpublished novelist’s moment, a frustrated and self-doubting moment, an all-too-familiar and tiresome moment that previously led me to rant against succubus novels. Three posts ago, I mentioned my epiphany about the climax scene. I wrote that scene last week. Now, it feels anticlimactic.

I was so jazzed before I wrote the scene, so what happened? I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that the answer relates to suspense. I’ve been giving this concept a lot of thought. Here’s what occurs to me:

I might be torturing myself about what constitutes suspense that gets acquiring editors a-drooling. And this may be because I just finished reading the latest crime novel by a bestselling novelist, and this bestseller loves the surprise whodunit twist within a twist within a twist until the plot is wrung dry as dust.

As I’ve come to expect from certain writers, this novel’s culprits were indeed characters who appeared or were mentioned only in passing. They didn’t even merit “subplot character” status. I’ll admit that I was surprised by one of the villains, but that was because I’d forgotten this character existed. The twist felt like bad storytelling juju to me — ham-fisted and too manipulative — yet it got under my skin. This novelist sells; she must be doing something right, right?

(Sidenote: Seems to me I vowed (this post) to read only nonfiction until I completed the first draft. Alas, case in point for reinstating that vow right here, right now: I’m letting another novelist’s trickiness mess with my head. Susceptible, that’s me; hence, the vow.)

Questions to self: Can’t the culprit be a character that readers might actually suspect? Can’t the surprise and suspense stem from unanswered WHYs or HOWs? Can’t the cool thing be the way the disparate puzzle pieces fit together? Given interesting, well-rounded characters, can’t their personal-story resolutions count for as much with acquiring editors as whodunit resolutions?

I’m just asking, that’s all I’m saying, just asking.

P.S. Will get back to the cliffhanger from last Friday later this week — if I can remember where I was heading with that post!