N is for Novel #AtoZChallenge

Reflections on Novels and Novelty

A guest post by Bill Throwsnaill

When I started working on my first novel (Hemlock and the Wizard Tower), I had just stopped reading a particularly disappointing fantasy novel. A sudden and unexpected sense of pride built in my chest, and I proclaimed to myself that I could do better. Another inner voice responded. "Prove it!" And so my adventures as an indie novelist began.

As I worked on that first novel, much of what kept me going was the challenge of actually completing it. I had a word count in mind (125,000), but I realized that the story arc was reaching an early conclusion.

I had previously read an article by Stephen Bochco about screenplay writing, and it sprang to mind as I considered what to do. That article introduced me to the concept of the three act play. I soon realized that although my story seemed to be reaching a point of resolution, this point in the story actually fit quite well as the end of the first act in the three act structure. The end of the first act is the point where the initial objective is reached, but things turn out to be more complicated than first imagined. So what I thought was a problem turned out to be ideal for the plot structure I decided to use. There were a number of "happy accidents" like this during the process of writing that first book.

One notable thing about that first Hemlock book is that it was almost totally written by the seat of the pants. "Pantsing" is the colloquial term for this type of writing. Although I conceived certain aspects of the tale beforehand (like the relatively quick start), significant parts of the plot were generated "organically" and simply flowed from what had come before them without any sort of outline. And this is one of the things about that novel that I am most proud of. I've read many books where it seems like the plot has been completely pre-ordained, and the scenes end up with a heavily scripted feeling. I prefer books where the characters seem to be reacting in "real-time" to information. In stories like this the reader is often able to experience genuine surprise in response to plot developments.

When I got around to writing the sequel to Hemlock and the Wizard Tower, I had a crisis of confidence regarding whether pantsing was going to work. So much plot and environment was inherited from the first novel--moreso because the new novel is a direct continuation of the prior book--that I had trouble writing spontaneously. And I was very concerned about maintaining continuity between the two books.

I did initially make a few sad attempts at pantsing on the second novel. It's fun to go back and read them now because they are terrible. In the face of this unsuccessful start, I decided to relax and get into a purely creative "zone". So all I did for about three months was think about the plot, wait for ideas, and take notes. I did write scene fragments during this time, but did not outline or write any full scenes. I wanted this to be an unstructured period of the project.

Eventually I reached a point where I thought I had enough for a short novel. But the downside of this period of creative relaxation I had taken became evident. I was already a year out from the relase of the first book. Other indie novelists that had released books around the time Hemlock and the Wizard Tower had been released already had their second books out. I began to feel like I was lagging behind. I toyed with some alternatives to producing a full novel. I thought about moving to an episodic format and publishing novellas, but I soon discarded that. I think a significant part of fantasy writing is the immersion that a reasonable length affords. Going short didn't feel right, even though I was very anxious to get a new release completed.

So I started writing with a renewed goal of producing a full novel, but one that would be somewhat shorter than the first one. I had enough fragments written that I knew where scenes were heading, but I was never sure exactly how I would get "there". This is how I tried to maintain a level of pantsing within the overall framework I'd envisioned for the novel. As I wrote, several things ended up different than I had intended. An entire "act" ended up being cut from the latter part of the story, and some scenes that I thought would be peripheral ended up becoming a full-blown second story arc (that travels on an intersecting course with the main one).

I'm very proud of the new novel now that it's done, but I do have to say something about the process I used for it. It stressed the hell out of me. I might need to consider more structure for the third book because my brain felt like it was overloaded with all of the details I had to manage in my head. But I immediately second guess any changes to my process because I never want to lose the novelty of pantsing. It's really the primary reason that I write. It's beautiful, chaotic...and stressful. And I never want to suffocate it with outlines. But if my experience on Hemlock Book Three is anything like it was on Book Two, I may be writing more stand-alone books in the future. Or maybe I'll have to compensate with an increased focus on meditation and other relaxation techniques.

So that's my story about writing my novels and my affinity for novelty. I hope you enjoyed it. If you'd like to read more of my meandering musings or are interested in my books, please visit my blog at http://www.wiztower.com.

A little about Bill

Bill Throwsnaill cut his teeth on the classic works of fantasy and science fiction by authors such as Tolkien, Moorcock, Herbert and Gibson.

Writing a novel length work had been a lifelong ambition, and has now been realized with the release of Hemlock and the Wizard Tower .

The author's goal is to write fun and creative fiction that is grounded in personal experience and observations about the real world and its history.

Check out his website HERE.

Follow him on Twitter: @BThrowsnaill

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