Writing the Novel that will Challenge You

I struggled with what I should write about today, because, frankly, I did not want to talk about this. I hate leaving things unfinished. My gut reaction when I can't complete something is that I've failed, regardless of whether the thing I was working on even deserved to be finished.

*sigh*

So, it is with all the suck-it-up-and-tell-the-truth-ness I can muster that I'll admit this:

I'm abandoning my novel. A second time.

I know, I know, beware the temptress that is the shiny new idea, but it's not really a shiny new idea. A few weeks ago when I was deciding what to write next, I had two options. I just initially chose the wrong one. (That's what I keep telling myself, anyway.)

See, here's the thing. The story that's been taking over my mind hasn't been THE ACADEMY, it's been THE TRIAL. But, since I'd started the first one last year and gave up, I thought it'd be a better idea to just finish it and then write the second one later. But here's the problem: I'm currently obsessed with the idea of THE TRIAL. It haunts me. I can't stop thinking about it. And when my good friend Dawn reminded another writer friend to write the book that most speaks to you, well, I decided to listen.

So, why the heck did I want to wait to write it in the first place?

I was scared. I didn't (and still don't, quite frankly) think I was ready to write this novel. It wasn't going to be easy. It's narrative structure was going to be a big challenge for me. I didn't know how to write a story that wasn't completely chronological. So I wanted to put it off, give myself time to grow as a writer before I got there. But aside from writing in third person instead of first, there wasn't really anything about THE ACADEMY that would push me to be a better writer. It was a "safe" book, and (probably for that reason) one that didn't ignite my passion.

So, after one week and over 14K words, I'm setting THE ACADEMY aside. In its place, I'm doing what I can to prepare myself to write THE TRIAL and setting some realistic goals to keep from pulling my hair out.

The biggest challenge I see to this novel is the narrative structure. Not only will the story be told non-linearly, but it will also utilize a number of different types of story telling mediums. There will be multiple eye witness testimony during the trial, letters written to love interests, journal entries, "regular" narrative both of the actual trial and of the story that led up to the arrest, etc. And I'm still not sold 100% on which POV I'd like to use.

Another big challenge for this book? Maintaining a mystery element without being obnoxious in how information is withheld/revealed and making it spooky. I can kill off characters no problem, but making things spooky? Not something I've ever really done before. Oh, and it'll be a stand alone instead of the first in a series, also something I've never done before.
Honestly, just typing those previous two paragraphs have me terrified about how I'll be able to pull this novel off.

But, that's kind of the point. I recently started reading Ann Patchett's, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage a collection of essays in which she discusses both her life and her writing process. In one of the first articles in the book, she talks about her growth as a writer, about the hours and hours she spent every day writing (something I know well), and about how she felt writers should always be challenging themselves to get better, to write novels they couldn't have written before. That advice really resonated with me. I wanted to write the novel I couldn't have written a year ago.

THE TRIAL is going to be a huge challenge for me to write, but for that very reason, it's the book that will push me to grow the most. And that is what I'm all about. (Though, someone should probably remind me of this post when I'm bemoaning the fact that I'm struggling so much with my novel.)

In case you're curious, this is what I'll be doing to prep for the writing of this book:

  • Step One: Read non-linear novels. Over the holiday weekend I read John Green's An Abundance of Katherines which I originally started because I wanted to read some good third person narrative after spending so much time in first person POV. To my great delight, it also happened to include sections that were in the past but weren't told as flashback, something I wanted to do with THE TRIAL but had no idea how to go about it. Thank you, Reading Gods, for that happy coincidence. I'm going to read a few more books with non-linear story structure to get a sense of how I might want to structure my novel before I start seriously plotting.
     
  • Step Two: Read other "stuff." In addition to novels, I also want to read real letters written in the general time period of my novel, and I want to read court transcripts. I want to absorb the way each of these things is written and how they feel in relation to each other, and how they'll best augment a more traditional narrative section.
     
  • Step Three: Sketch out a very basic chronological order of events for my novel.
     
  • Step Four: Try, as much as possible, to figure out the best order in which to reveal those chronological events to create the best reading experience with the structure I have in mind. (Notice how vague this is? That's because I have NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING! *sigh*)
     
  • Step Five: Once all this is done, I'll go through my normal novel prep steps and get writing.

This time around, I'm going to give myself permission to write a little slower. I want to give myself buffer time if I need to use a day or two of writing time to figure out how the heck to write this thing.

And so my goal with this novel? It's not to write 90K in 30 days like I did with AST. It's not even necessarily to have a book I think is going to be super marketable. My most basic (and most important) goal with this book is to stretch my writing ability and to "master" a non-traditional story structure. (I say "master" in quotes because one novel does not a master make, but I think you get my drift.)

In any case, wish me luck! I'm going to need it to bolster the hours and weeks and months of work ahead of me.

-Isabel

P.S.

I can't log off without telling you just the most amazing news. My good friend and critique partner, Dawn Kurtagich, SOLD HER BOOK!!!!!! She wrote an amazingly terrifying YA horror novel that I had the good fortune of beta reading for her this past fall. It's fantastic. She's fantastic. And in fall 2015, YOU will get to read her book, THE DEAD HOUSE. I'm beyond excited for her, and you should all be sure to add TDH to your Goodreads. Or if you don't use Goodreads, just make a note somewhere to preorder it when that's an option. And if you're worried you'll forget, don't worry; I'll remind you when it's time.

Love you, Dawn! <3