Good friend and co-author Diane Sherlock recently blogged about the similarities between writing a novel and training for a triathlon. For sure worth reading. Take a minute to follow the link and check out what she has to say.
It prompted me to look at the way I create a novel, specifically the first draft. I had a professor once tell me that the first draft is figuring out what the story is about. Of course, I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Don’t writers know what they’re writing about when they set out to write a novel? I used to think so. Now, I feel like writers THINK they know what they’re going to write about when the begin, but more often than not, those ideas transform in some dramatic way. I heard it this way: If you set out to write a story about a boy fishing, and somewhere, half-way through maybe, you realize you’ve spent more time developing the fish than the boy, your story is about the fish (weird as that may be). This isn’t problematic. In fact, it’s serendipitous. If you write the story of the boy, you write the story you want. If you write the story of the fish, you write the story that wants to be told.
Here’s what I’m trying to say (convoluted as I may sound)—when you begin a story or a novel, understand that your story has secrets. Understand that your characters have secrets. Never make the mistake of thinking you know everything there is to know about your story or your character. Accept that there is something you’ve not anticipated, and allow for those situations to arise in your story—the situations that put your characters in difficult positions where they must choose.
Better yet, have your character make a decision that is different than you anticipated. Then, figure out why they chose to do (or say) that particular thing. If it surprises you, it will surprise your reader. Additionally, it will make your story more complex, your characters more intricate, and your reader more satisfied.
What secrets do your characters have? What secrets does your story have?