Thoughts about Novel Writing

Definition of a novel: the longest distance
between two points.

I think it’s why we’re preoccupied with word
counts. And why we breathe a sigh of relief when we reach 40,000 words. We’re
out of the danger zone of being labeled a novella. Still, it would be better to
get to the 70,000 mark, the average length of a mystery, or even 100,000 words,
if yours happens to be a thriller.

When I open the pages of a new novel I plan on
reading, I often skip to the end just to see in advance how it ends. (My wife
ridicules me for what she perceives as an unconscionably bad habit.) It’s true
we owe God a death, but a novelist owes the reader an ending. And I just want
to see if it’s worth the investment of time I’m going to make getting there.

Yet when I’m writing—or more often than not, trying to write—a novel of my own, I
don’t always have the end in mind. One time, I did prewrite the ending, but
then I felt I was manipulating the plot to arrive there. I prefer a loose bag
of alternate endings. Will the hero live or die in the end? Will it end with a
bang or a whimper? A sunrise or sunset? Dunno. I’ll find out when I get there.
It makes the writing of a novel more interesting that way.

Some novels go on too long. Take Moby Dick, for instance. (No, take it,
please!) It starts out well enough:

Call me Ishmael.

And it has a decent ending:

And I only am escaped alone to tell thee … (Sorry about the spoiler.)

But then there’s all that stuff about whales in
between … BORING!

It makes me think about other things we

  • Vacations
  • Weekends
  • Sex – talk about not wanting
    to arrive too soon.
  • Agony

Let’s not fool ourselves. Novel writing is
agonizing. But it’s a delicious sort of agony. The kind that, if you’re lucky,
can end with ecstasy.

And then begins the process of revising …


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