I’m lucky to know a lot of writers. They write fiction, non-fiction, political “flakking” (which I call a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction), and everything else (think Twitter, blogs, business writing, PR). Isn’t that pretty much everybody these days?
When I tell people I’m writing novels, I commonly hear “I have a book too. It’s still in my head. I just need to write it down.”
That’s the hard part, isn’t it? Ideas come easy. Constructing a story is work. There’s plot, foreshadowing, story arc, dialogue and lots more. Crime and Paradise came to me all at once. I knew who my main character was and her motivations. I knew there would be a murder, where it took place and I knew the ending. The story was a solid idea, beautiful and whole, and all in my head. I just needed to write it down.
Writing the manuscript was exhilarating and discouraging at the same time. Some plot points, so perfect in my head, didn’t quite add up when set down on paper. It became a challenge to pick the story apart, reassemble it and create characters that would enable the reader to suspend disbelief. I had to become my main character, her best friend, the sheriff investigating the case and the murderer. I had to understand their motivations and sorrows.
The first few drafts were pretty disappointing. I’d rushed through the story-telling and forgot to build scenes in my eagerness to reach the end. But there was a story there that demanded to be written and it wouldn’t let me go. One way or another, I was going to wrestle a manuscript out of the muddle on my computer.
Along the way, others around me were celebrating book launches and publishing contracts. I became more surly each time I walked into a book store and saw shelves weighted down with well written pages. How did they do it? From the outside, it looked so easy. From the inside, a challenging puzzle.
One of my favorite quotes from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” kept echoing in my mind. It’s the scene where the Red Queen and Alice are running across a field, with the queen screaming “Faster! Faster!” Breathless, they finally stop and Alice looks around and sees they are in exactly the same spot where they started.
“In our country,” Alice complains, “you’d generally get to somewhere else, if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
The Red Queen snorts and says, “A slow sort of country! Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
So I worked twice as hard. And the Red Queen was right. Little by little, I started to get somewhere. At some point, my characters took over and told me what to write. That’s when Crime and Paradise really started to come together.
Hard work has never been so much fun. The first book wasn’t easy but it was immensely satisfying.