How (Not) to Write a Novel

My second novel is a prequel to my first. Therefore, I already had an end to write towards, and the only major project restriction was certain characters, times, and events must transcend the gap between the two works. Otherwise, I was free to explore the backstories with relatively few limitations.

I welcomed the writing scope freedom, and began to construct the novel quite differently from any I have worked on before. I opted to try a new concept (to me), the “Stream of Consciousness” method. I do not really know if others have written on this method (I suspect they have), but if indeed such guidance existed, I did not seek those resources. I developed the process on my own.

Here is how it works: Write. Then write more. Then write more. Do not follow a structure, just imagine you are telling a story, and then tell it – except in this case you make it up as you go along. I thought this approach would bring more authenticity and likability to the plot than if I followed a more structured methodology (outlines, sticky notes, and so on), and I suppose, in some aspects it did. Without any guardrails, I could place my characters anywhere, doing anything, with anyone. I could develop new characters on a whim and flip a plot 90 degrees if the urge hit. I brought my characters down interesting paths of lust, betrayal, struggle, discovery, anguish . . . there was a lot going on!

Then I encountered problems.

Was this character’s actions actually “in character?” How plausible is it for the protagonist to be at that exact place at the exact time when it flipped the story arc? Why is this offshoot relevant to the eventual ending? What was the story I was trying to tell, anyway? Novels have endings, of course, but an ending does not make the art. It is the last piece of key lime pie after a seven-course Thanksgiving meal.

What was I cooking?

The result is much of the branches, while excellent and fun to write, ended up in the deleted folder. Those that were merely stubs of a few hundred words ended up deleted, hidden from anyone else’s eyes forever.

Can I state with any conviction that time writing dead ends was wasted? I believe so – to an extent. Had I created better (or even some) guardrails besides just an ending, I would have not traveled so many spurs. As I prepare for beginning my next novel in a month or so, one decision is finalized – I will, as I have with other works previously, draft an outline, sketch the major players, and thereby guide the stream. Yet the boundaries shall be looser than before – somewhere there is (for me) a perfect balance between structure and free form. I just need to discover that sweet spot.