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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Writing Wednesday: What I Learned From My First Novel

Hello again blog readers! I am back from my wonderful trip to the States. I adore America. Anyway, am now back in England where, surprisingly, it's not raining! Which is why I'm cooped up indoors tapping away on my laptop. Lol. No, not really -- spent all day at Chessington World of Adventures amusement park, which is why this post has come so late in the day. Sorry!

I realise I haven't done Writing Wednesday in a very long time, and I'm not quite sure why. I seem to have an endless stream of Music Monday weeks. Poor abandoned Wednesday. I'm sorry. But anyway, I thought I should return with a bang, so here I am, telling you what I learned writing a book as a teenager.

Until the summer of last year, I hadn't even considered attempting a work longer than about sixteen Microsoft Word pages, my then-record for longest piece of fiction. Until my Strange Angels (failure of a) fanfiction, I had no idea how much I liked writing. I never finished Reunion, by the way, other than in my head, because that was when I began to plan the work that would become My First Novel -- which was such a daunting and monumental task for me that yes, it does deserve to be a proper noun.

While plotting out this scary endeavour, I read as many craft books and web pages as I could lay my fingers/mouse on. There are still many I haven't read and would like to, but the one thing everyone said was that, to improve your writing, you had to actually, well, write. Duh. So write I did. Even knowing this, the amount I learned just by bumbling along, fingers on keys, missing God only knows how many Friends reruns (not a huge loss since I've seen them all anyway) along the way, astounded me. I flat-out refused to give up. This would never be to a publishable standard -- I knew that from the get-go -- but I was darn well going to finish this little monster/my precious baby (usually it was the latter, but occasionally it really did feel like the former) IF IT KILLED ME. (Coincidentally, I did have a hospital scare, as some of you may remember, and my first thought was, No! I can't die! I'm two chapters from the end! Thankfully, I recovered. Phew! But that interview with Joy Preble about The Sweet Dead Life? That came to you straight from my hospital bed. True story.)

By far the most surprising writing-related thing was this: You, the author, are really not in control at all. You are at the complete, total and utter mercy of the characters. Sure, you can plot and plan and outline all you want, but if they turn around with a better idea, they will make you follow it. Stubborn rascals.

Not wanting to give too much away, I will give an example lest anyone is sitting there like, "what on earth is this nutcase talking about?" Well, my main character is...somewhat of an actress. Following a huge loss in her life, she turns inside herself, yet, to prevent her friends and family from worrying about her and asking questions, she still acts like her happy, bubbly old self. She fools everyone with this fa├žade -- including me. Yes, me. My original vision of Protagonist was the bubbly girl. She was so good at her game, it wasn't until one night in bed where it hit me like a freight train. After that, all the plot pieces started coming together seamlessly, and I knew that Protagonist was so interesting, I couldn't write the story from the point of view of anyone but her. So while for a few days I was marginally irritated that my character was nothing like I thought she was, I'm very happy she eventually showed her true colours. Why? Well, her secrets give way to multiple Very Exciting Plot Twists which just could not have happened had she stayed the optimistic extrovert. I realise now the story she would have produced would have been completely different, and -- not to blow my own trumpet or anything -- I like the way the story ended up. My themes would have been different too. See how so much depends on character? I never believed it before, but now I sure do.

So then about 3/4 of the way through the story, another big revelation occurred. Best Friend and Other Friend knew Protagonist was acting all along, but they didn't tell her because she wanted them to believe she was fine. They knew. Bombshell. Protagonist and I found this out at the exact same time. Unplanned plot twists are always good, and although I did plan out the story before writing (otherwise I just ramble all over the place -- kind of like my blog posts, hahaha), I had characters refusing to do what I said, revealing they knew stuff I didn't intend for them to know, and jumping out of windows (you'll have to wait till it's published to know how that one ties in...mwa ha ha ha ha.) But this made no sense. They're my characters. I created them from the depths of my imagination. I made them up. They couldn't just do whatever they wanted and keep secrets from me, could they?

Um, evidently, yes.

And I loved that.

I also learned about my writing voice and description skills and whether I am a plotter or a pantser and characterisation, but that's to be expected, and honestly I'd bore you if I tried to tell you all about it. So instead, I'll tell you about the other, non-writing-related things I learned -- perhaps the most useful and transferable of which is dedication. My First Novel taught me to push on and finish a project, not to give up no matter what. Finishing this thing was a promise I had made to myself, and I was going to keep that promise. Promise kept? Check. But that required dedication, especially with school and family and social life to squeeze in, and the siren call of American sitcoms telling me to, "watch TV...you can write later...watch me, watch me..."

Last, I learnt about people -- both people in general and myself. Exploring my characters -- especially Protagonist -- and themes required a lot of pondering human behaviour and psychology. How would Situation A affect different people? Why did Love Interest cope so well with Situation B, whereas Other Friend resorted to the only thing he could handle -- outright closed-mindedness -- to the point where he was hurting the ones he loved? And creating these people, I was subconsciously delving into myself. What traits and qualities I value, and which I dislike. How much I would be prepared to forgive. What scares me most. What I can't afford to lose. And what I can.

I know, right? I'm so deep, you can't even see me any more.

In short, I have a huge debt to My First Novel. One I can probably never repay. Other than, of course, by getting published. One day...

I'll be back on Friday to tell you all about my favourite YA contemporary yet. Yes, that's right. Better than The Fault in our Stars! You won't want to miss this, guys.