What I Learned While Writing My Fourth Novel

This week I finished my 4th novel, Furnace Man. Now don’t jump up and cheer just yet. This one, like all of the others, is unpublishable.

I thought I had something going in the first few chapters but I quickly realized there were too many problems for this to be a workable idea. Still, I persisted, because I was learning so much by going through the process.

So now that the draft is complete and safely in my “trunk”, I can forget about it. But I won’t forget all of the valuable things I learned. Here are a few:

The protagonist should be active.

The one in my book spends the first 75% of it just letting events happen to him and not reacting in a manner different than he normally would have have his whole life. Although the situations might be interesting, his lack of action was getting old.

Backstory needs to have action.

There was a lot of history that my reader was discovering as he went on. But that history didn’t really have much going on. Their were a few big events, but I was saving them for the climax. Other than those, there just wasn’t enough to sustain interest (even my interest!)

Never even think about using a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

When I first conceived of this idea, many years ago, one of the characters was the dreaded MPDG. I wanted to change that while writing but the character never worked. Her roots were tainted by that horrible cliche.

If the reader spends the whole book in a person’s head, that person better be interesting.

My narrator was a two-trick pony and those two tricks weren’t enough to sustain interest while I went around setting up all the salient story points for the climax.

Do not outline the whole book!

At least for me. It may work for some people but I don’t like knowing what is going to happen too far ahead in my stories. Finding things out while writing is what pleases me.

When inspiration strikes, just go with it.

There were sections of this book that really worked and those were the scenes or that I had not thought of before hand. At points while writing an idea came to me and I wrote freely. Remember, if it doesn’t fit in the story, you can always cut it later. But if it makes you happy to write it, don’t stop yourself.

And finally… Things need to happen.

That sounds obvious, but what you think of as “things happening” before you write might not amount to much of anything when you are writing. I ran into this problem a lot. I think it has to do with my previous bullet point. Things I assumed would take up a whole chapter really didn’t need to, but I only found that out while writing.

A lot of work went into learning some simple truths. But that’s life, right? A series of lessons with answers that hindsight tells you were obvious the whole time.

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