Monday, August 19, 2019

How Writing a Novel Is Like a Romance

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A writer’s love affair with the story is often a bumpy road—but worth the trip.

A good novel is a well-blended mix of questions and reveals, tease and reward, love and hate—especially during a first draft. If we’re lucky, that first spark results in a long and rewarding relationship, but we shouldn’t mourn if it fizzles out. Not all pairings are meant to be.

When a story works, it’s magical. It makes us feel invincible and capable of moving readers with our words and imagination.

When it doesn’t, it can crush our souls and leave us unwilling to ever try again.

But no matter how many times our storyteller’s heart is broken, we keep going back, because we believe in the power of story. We know that all it takes is the right story and the right time and all our dreams can come true.

Will it take work? Absolutely.

But it’s work well worth taking, and when we get it right, the rest of the heartbreak fades into memory.

Like every great love story…

It Starts with an Attraction

Something about the idea catches your eye and you’re drawn to it, wanting to know more. Maybe it’s a character, or a setting, or even the theme, but it gets to you and you can’t stop thinking about it. You might even dream about it. You don’t know much about it yet, but you need to know everything about it and explore every inch of it.

You might even get a little stalker-y (but in a good way). You want to know who these people are, what they’re doing, where they come from. You follow then around and spy on them until you understand more about them and if they’re worth getting to know.

(Here’s more on Should You Follow the Siren Song of a New Idea?)

You Dive in Without Knowing Where it’s Going

Plotter or pantster, you don’t know what the final story will be by the endeven if you plan it out meticulously, things still often change during the draft. Just because the idea looked good when you met doesn’t mean it has any depth. Details might change, characters won’t be who you thought they were, and some of them might even outright lie to you.

But none of that matters, because you’re excited about the potential and where this idea could go. You’re willing to chase it down and risk heartache if it doesn’t work, because you love it so much. It’s worth the risk to find out if this idea has what it takes to make you happy.

(Here’s more on Storming the Brain: Coming Up With Ideas)

It’s Has a “Getting to Know You” Phase

These early stages are so much fun. You’re spending time with the characters and really getting to know them. You learn fascinating secrets and histories, and might even wander the streets of a brand-new world. Every time you turn around you’re discovering something new and amazing. Everything is fresh and new and all you can see are the possibilities, and the more you learn, the more excited you get about where this could go.

Even the problems you encounter are exciting, and instead of seeing obstacles you can’t overcome, you see opportunities to build a stronger relationship. The challenges will make the story better, not tear it apart. The flaws are what makes your story unique.

(Here’s more on Birth of a Book: The Development Stage: Figuring Out the Plot)

It Loses its Shine and You Wonder if You Made a Mistake

After a while, things aren’t so easy anymore. Problems start cropping up and it takes more and more work to fix them. Everything that was so bright and shiny now looks dull and dingy. You start wondering if this was a good idea and if you’ve wasted months of your life on something that just won’t work.

Then you start noticing other ideas. They’re oh-so attractive and you feel that wonderful spark of attraction. You might even consider dumping your story for a new idea, but you’re not ready to break things off just yet.

(Here’s more on The Perils of Not Knowing What Happens Next in Your Story)

It Makes You Worry Things Might Not Work Out

As the fear grows, you really think this is the end. You won’t be able to solve the multitude of problems and you’re not even sure you want to. You seriously start looking at other ideas, and might even take the first step toward trying one out, just to see how it feels.

Sometimes that’s all it is—a harmless flirtation and fantasizing. You take a short break and gain some perspective, and you realize you really do want to work things out. This is the story you’re committed to, and you want to see it through to the end.

Sometimes, those new ideas feel good. Too good. That new idea makes you feel like a writer again. You toy with a scene, maybe even a whole chapter, and before you know it, you’re sneaking off to write that story while your original manuscript sits at home and wonders where you’ve gone.

(Here’s more on 5 Reasons to Give Up on Your Novel (And One Reason Not to))

It Reminds You Why You Fell for it in the First Place

Then something happens. You hear a song, see a show, read a book, and it makes you think of your unfinished novel. You start thinking about the good times, the laughs, the things you really loved about it, and your problems suddenly don’t seem so insurmountable. You start thinking maybe you should try again and see if maybe this time, you can make it work.

If you’ve stepped out on your idea with a new one, you might even feel guilty, and rededicate yourself to your idea with renewed purpose. You push away all the new pages you’d written so they don’t tempt you again. You know without a doubt that this is the story you wanted to write all along.

(Here’s more on 3 Ways to Tell if a Manuscript Is Worth Going Back to)

You Live Happily Ever After

You work through your problems and find the love again. That original spark is still there and all you needed was a little time away to really appreciate it. You’re more cautious in how you approach it, and it give it the time it needs to develop into what you know in your heart is there.

You finish the draft and it’s what you knew it could be. It fills you with pride and you have so many wonderful plans for its future. Sure, there are still things to work on, but you know it’ll only make the relationship stronger. Even better, you’re looking forward to the work.

Of course, not every story has a happy ending, but romance novels do, so let’s stick to that metaphor right to the end. Because it’s the happily every afters that make up for all the heartbreaks and times we got stood up by a new idea we thought would be The One.

Have you found your happily ever after yet? Have you met your literary One?

For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. I loved this post, Janice. I describes the relationship completely.

    1. Thanks! It was fun to write :) I really enjoy these "simile" posts.

  2. Marvelous post! Especially apt for romance writers like me.