Shhhh … It’s a Secret!

shhGood 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?

11 Comments on Shhhh … It’s a Secret!

  1. Hey Gansky it’s been a while. Anyhow, I agree totally, most of the time when I’m writing my series, and rewriting it (over and over) My characters unexpectedly change on me and I’m like….? So, I some times startle myself in what happens.

  2. I agree when writing a story, I get half way done with the first draft and it begins to change. Normally better that what I originally had in mind. Because I let the story lead me instead of my thoughts, I get stuck contradicting myself and rewriting until it’s something worth while, most likely it comes out better than the story I originally started.

  3. My characters and my story have minds of their own, so I find out rather often that they have their little secrets and surprises. As writers, we are just here to give the story form and put it out there for the world to see. What actually happens to the characters… Well, that’s up to them.
    I don’t even know how many times my characters have surprised me. I can be writing a scene I’ve been thinking about and toying with for months and then something that never even occurred to me can happen. I didn’t realize that my character Arthur was in a wheelchair… Until the “Spirit of Writing” decided that he needed one for that scene in the story.
    …Yes, I just said the Spirit of Writing. It’s a nice way to think of the way a story develops. There is a sentient being aside from the writer that exists within the story, and the presence of that spirit is what gives it shape.

  4. That makes sense. I’ve been writing many stories over the years and never went back to make a second draft. Now that I think about it…all of those stories could use a good editing. Without editing, those stories will never be as great as they can possibly be.

  5. I forgotten about the idea of making drafts. I don’t do it often like I should but it sounds like a good idea to me especially for characters and settings so you can develop what kind of personality your character has or the setting for the story.

    The idea of having your character choose between two choices (or more) is also a good idea to catch the readers attention and make them want to find out what is going to happen. It’s a great way to spice things up a little.

  6. Amber (Squirrel) Hynes | September 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Reply

    i can totally see where this is coming from. i always think i know where im going with a story and always end up being wrong. like one time i started to write a fanfiction and it turned out completly the opposite as what i wanted it to be, and it was way better than i had hoped. the same thing with my current novel im writing the characters are different and more complex than when i was forming them, as well as the story line. ive been thinking up this story for around a year now and its really surprising me, and i hope it does in fact surprise the readers…

  7. Jonathan Calzada | September 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply

    I usually think I got a good idea, then halfway through writing I get a better one, so then I go back, put it in and the story is way better, it really is a secret to myself.

  8. One thing that I should make clear…if, while in the process of writing a first draft, you have a better idea that will change the course of the novel or story, before you stop half-way and begin revision, it’s important to finish the first draft completely. Once you hit “the end,” then you may go back. The reason this is important is because, if you don’t finish the first draft, the chances of you finishing any subsequent draft are greatly diminished. Once you write “the end,” you’re much more likely to finish a second, third, and even a fourth draft. Hmmm … maybe this is what I’ll blog about next week …

  9. I agree your first draft of the story will never be quite as good as your story after various editing. On the first draft of your story you don’t really know where your characters or your story is going, but after you are “done” with your story you can now go back and revise your story to make it way better

  10. Yeah, I definitely agree. I must have started the beginning of my story more than times I could possibly count and found myself mutually disappointed with the outcome of the setting and the characters. I thought I knew everything when I began to write, but the feeling I wanted to portray didn’t seem quite right. I started to find out bits and pieces that mattered about my characters and the timing it should all be revealed to the reader, but considering that I became overwhelmed I put my pencil down and decided it might take me a while to get to know these characters and admire them as the reader would.

  11. Yea, I agree Gansky. That’s how it always has happened for me. When you wanted us to do that character sheet and write down everything about my character, I didn’t know EVERYTHING on that sheet of paper and I felt that I was wrong for that but now I know I wasn’t 🙂

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