Writing a novel can begin with anything: with a theme, with an image, with a snippet of dialogue, with a premise, with a real or imagined event, with a regional accent . . . with with whatever gets the writer’s fingers dancing.
The View that Disappeared began with the conjunction of a few lines of imagined dialogue and various stories that have been handed down in my family. Those lines of dialogue morphed into the Jack Luckner’s voice, his character, his attitude. As for the family stories, they were my grandmother’s tales of her time as a cook in an “old folks’ home” in Portland, Oregon. Needless to say, these stories were not happy little ditties about honored seniors living out their sunset years, or days, in a state of jolly and spritely tranquility.
Then as now, what happens is such places is often more worthy of a Dickensian novel than it is of a glossy sales brochure or a slick radio ad.
I am normally a pathetically slow writer. For me, a normal day is somewhere between 250 and 500 words. Of draft.
Yes, I do a lot of cycling. That is, I write a passage and then cycle back through it, again and again, until the words convey the images and the meanings and the events I want to use to tell the story.
Making matters worse, all too often, I end up going down rabbit trails, writing in circles, jamming the plot—the story’s sequence of events—into a blind alley after another, or, for some reason, having characters doing things and saying things that are, well, out of character.
Yes, characters can and should surprise, and they can and should act in contradictory, complex ways, but characters should never act in ways that don’t fit. If a character does some oddball something, then that oddball something has to be explained and motivated. Its foundations have to be laid, etc.
For example, if your fictional George Washington ends up changing sides and joining with the British, as Benedict Arnold did, then you’d better have established a very good reason for good old George to have done so.
Anyway, when such things as those listed above happen, then the writing progress can and often does come to an abrupt halt. That’s when I often end up wandering around like a lost backpacker in the Montana wilderness, until it finally dawns on me that I’m off down a pointless rabbit trail or that one of my characters really wouldn’t, honestly wouldn’t ever pimp out her bodybuilder husband to the “lonelier” members of her suburban terrorist cell.
Armed with that realization, I must then rip out the offending material and start over from that point, or, alternatively, I must figure out why one of my characters really would, honestly would pimp out her bodybuilder husband to the “lonelier” members of her suburban terrorist cell.
That done, I have to cycle back through the manuscript and change the extant text accordingly, or at least change it enough so that farther along, the character’s motives can be explained in a shocking and exciting reveal.
(Note: the five previous paragraphs are an excursion down a rabbit trail. I’m leaving them in because they illustrate the point. However, they are a side trip. This post isn’t about writing technique as such, but about how I wrote The View that Disappeared.)
That said, that I’m a fairly slow writer, I wrote The View that Disappeared start to finish, with precious little cycling, and in, for me, record time. Writing it took a matter of weeks, rather than months.
That initial draft was followed by a clean-up pass, which in turn was followed by gathering first-readers’ comments, followed by revisions based on those comments, which, happily, were minimal, and, finally, a good deal of professional copyediting. Before the book is formally published, it will go through yet another round of copyediting. Even then, typos will abound.
I believe that what kept my writing pace up was that I didn’t try to write the book “straight.” I used several different points of view, kept the overall tone intimate and conversational, did my utmost to humanize all of the characters, especially the villain, and worked in enough gallows humor to keep the satirical content central without allowing the book to devolve into a ha-ha, ain’t-murder-funny comedy. True, this is a murder mystery, but it is also a satire, one set against a few of life’s grimmer realities.
The book is comparatively short, and, I hope, it does not preach. It is, as far as I can tell, a fast, fun read.
In a sense, this novel mashes up a darker, more urban version of the family-feeling of The Waltons (long after John Boy has grown up), the satirical, contemptuous of M*A*S*H, and the investigative drive and cynicism of a noir murder mystery.
If you’re interested, here’s the link to the Goodreads giveaway.