Characters, Craft, Fiction, Novel, Voice, Writing

This is the scary part

Yesterday, I forced myself to get serious about writing my next novel. (Yes, I was sick. Blame it on the caffeine in the chai I drank.) I’ve been making the preparations for this novel for months, even writing out several scenes. But this time, actually getting down that first chapter is tougher.

I’m struggling with voice, which is part of the problem. I know I haven’t locked into it yet for this main character, so my inner editor lurks in the background whispering, You’re going to have to rewrite all this, you know. Since I’m not a “shitty first draft” person, it’s difficult to ignore that voice and push myself to write on.

This character is a challenge in two ways. I know who she is as an adult because she was a second-tier character in my last novel, but this one starts with her at age twelve, so she hasn’t developed that adult personality yet. This maturing of a character is not something I’ve tried before. Also, this is the first time I’ve attempted to write a novel in first person.

Structure is another challenge. This novel will consist of three parts, portraying three different stages of her life. I will bracket each section with present tense narrative, while writing the majority of the book in past tense. Numerous times already, I’ve caught myself writing in present what should be in past tense. That’s weird because I normally write in past tense, though in third person, so maybe it’s the first person that’s throwing me off.

I deliberately chose these challenges to hone my craft, but this unfamiliar territory makes me uneasy. I’m getting quivers of fear I can’t pull it off this time, but I keep putting one word in front of the other. What else can I do?

Your turn: What are the writing challenges you’ve faced recently?

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35 thoughts on “This is the scary part”

  1. This is interesting because I’ve written my manuscripts in first person, and my next one will be in third. I’m worried about making tense mistakes, too, but I know I can fix those in revision. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Maybe get the story down, then fix the muddy stuff in the second draft 🙂

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    1. Oh, Julie, it seems a contradiction, when you consider there’s an inch of dust over everything in my house, but I can’t stand “muddy stuff” when I write. I made it to what I expect will be the middle of that chapter before I had to go back and clean it up. I think I’m finally in the groove of first person, now I need to be alert to making the voice sound too old or educated. Ha ha … note to self: Just write like you normally speak … I mean, talk. 😀

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  2. Oh, Linda, it is SO hard to push out that first draft, knowing how much revision lies beyond it. I struggle with that too. I rewrote the first 100 pages of my WIP no less than FIVE TIMES and now I’m forcing myself to push through with this iteration, because I know that until I have a draft to work with, I won’t be anywhere near where I need to be. But everyone writes differently. Some of us do edit as we go, I know that too. But all of us, I do believe, at one point or another, struggle to get through rough/uninspired/frustrating patches–at every stage. God knows I’ve had some of my toughest, most challenging revision moments at the very end of my novel’s evolution–when I thought I’d nailed it and still pulled my hair out over a matter of a few lines of dialog–argh!

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    1. You’re so right, Erika. Revision is my favorite part, but I can’t get to that until I have something to revise! In every other aspect of my life, I think of myself as patient … but not in writing! I keep looking at the word count and thinking, I’ll never get to the end. And I’m still on the first chapter! Ridiculous. But I’m starting to feel it now, so I’ll get there eventually. 🙂

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  3. Linda,
    I wish I had some good advice for conquering that fear. I do know, when that kind of fear strikes, I remind myself that no one – not even my closest friend – has to see that first draft. So, I can write a first draft with ease, but I can’t always face the rewrites. For you – instead of forcing yourself to write that ugly first draft – I wonder if diving into the character might help you find her voice.

    Andre Dubus (in his essay in Tom Bailey’s A Short Story Writer’s Companion) talks about “vertical writing” where you explore the character by writing about her day, from the moment she wakes up. As Dubus says: “Just follow the dots: become the character and follow; there will be a story.” Along with “a story” will be a voice, I bet.

    Hang in there. I’m a believer that you can do it. The story is in you, that’s clear.

    And, while you may be jealous of how fast I punch out a flash fiction on Wednesdays, I am jealous of your images. You always manage to come up with the perfect picture to complement your post!

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    1. See, I’m used to submitting the semi-edited first draft chapters to my critique group, but I find myself reluctant to do that this time. This time, I think I want to get at least several solid chapters behind me before I get any feedback.

      You wrote a post on vertical writing, didn’t you? I did that some yesterday. I let my mind drift and “watched” this character. I feel like I know her pretty well, we’ve been “talking” for months now, but right now there’s a bit of a disconnect between what I hear in my head and what I’m writing. I’m getting closer; it will just take time. I know the first chapter will need revision anyway by the time I’ve written the last one because the story always shifts. Thank you for the vote of confidence.

      About the images, and this sounds stupid, but often it takes me longer to find an image than it did to write the post. 😕

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    2. Vertical writing sounds like an interesting technique — thanks for the suggestion. I’m going to try that today with one of my characters for the upcoming NaNo and see what kind of insights it brings.

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  4. I’ve just read the posts that I missed while sick and have an advantage of reading them back to back. Wanting to be done ms # 2 again and again. Wording, querying. Doing it all over?? We must be nuts. There’s something about finishing a novel that so unsatisfying. I think part of that lies with knowing it can never truly be done, only done to our contentment. But the other part knows all about that commitment and what it entails. It’s a hard thing to do again willingly. Good for you – one word in front of the other. And before you know it, well you’ll be in the midst of it and know there’s no going back now. Only forward. Again and again and again. lol

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    1. Jennifer, glad to hear you’re making it back to health again.

      That’s so true. I didn’t feel the thrill I thought I would when Brevity was truly finished. I’m not ashamed of it, but I wanted it to be more. So I have such high hopes for this one, wanting it to live up to my expectations. But at the same time, yes, knowing what a long road lies ahead. But we can’t ignore the stories that come to us, can we?

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