The hardest part of writing a novel

The hardest part of writing a novel

Sometimes people ask me what the hardest part of writing a novel is. That one’s easy. It’s sticking to it even when the first draft is inevitably terrible.

But once I get past that, the hardest part of any novel to write is the start. Beginnings are incredibly hard because you have to accomplish so much—introduce characters, get the plot underway, and, in the case of fantasy, set up a bit of the world. As a consequence, I can’t think of a time when the opening I first drafted was the one I wound up with.

Starting the story too early

Sometimes writers start their stories too early in the string of occurrences. They include backstory they think the reader will need to follow the story. So they delay getting to their actual plot for too many pages. I have the opposite problem: I often start the story too late.

Starting the story too late

In the case of The Wind Reader, I originally started with what’s now chapter 3. Doniver had already traveled on a plague ship and seen everyone on it die, including his father. He had already met and befriended two other street kids, Jarka and Dilly. He was also already pretending to be tell fortunes by reading the wind, a big violation of his own ethics.

In other words, I had this huge, traumatic plot event on the boat and I didn’t show it. Instead, I had Doniver think about it as a past event. Then I’d let this grief stricken kid arrive alone in a strange city and struggle to survive, without showing that. Additionally, in having him do something he found deeply irreverent, I’d given Doniver a painful jolt to his sense of who he was. What do you know? I didn’t show that either.

Sweet Powers, as Doniver would say. What was I thinking?

Don’t avoid what’s hard

The best answer I can come up with was that I was afraid those things would be too hard to write, and I let that scare me off. I think I dismissed those events as backstory. I worried they would delay my getting to the story I’d envisioned: a fake fortune teller accidentally tells a true story for the prince and is taken into the palace to be the royal fortune teller. Now that sounded like fun to write.

Thank goodness for helpful beta readers and revision. If drafting a start is my least favorite part of writing, revision is what I like best. I love being able to lay my whole draft out and see where the pace slackens, where the character arc needs to be brought out, where I can build a thicker world. In this case, I needed to see where I’d failed to show, not tell, the most crucial events of my character’s life. Once I decided to write what are now chapters one and two, doing so was pure writer pleasure.

If only life could be revised so I don’t back my car into that light pole in the Panera parking lot.

An author note: The paperback of The Wind Reader releases today. I feel like I’m pushing a baby bird out of the nest. Fly little book! Fly!

ETA: Amazon has the book listed at an insane level. The actual price will be something like $12.99. Don’t pay the ridiculous amount. You are my friends, so I tell you wait and check later.

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