Sunday, February 8, 2015

Learning to Be a Novelist

My manuscript is progressing. Right now I have about 13,000 words, and my modern-day heroine has been successfully kidnapped by a folktale queen.

I like this book quite a bit. My ability to control a story--cutting, adding, and changing in order to achieve the desired effect--has increased significantly in the last year. It’s exciting to be able to do things that that I didn’t use to be able to. I still struggle to achieve the layers of richness and nuance that I would like, though, so I clearly have a lot of work and learning ahead.

One interesting question that the class has raised is whether an author needs to "love" their protagonist. It seems that most of my fellow classmates do feel deeply attached to their main character. I like my heroine, but I don't know that I love her. Is this because I don't delve deeply enough into her personality? Is it because I keep her at (too much of) a distance from myself? Is it because I won't know her fully until I finish the book? Is it because I just don't attach as easily as some people to fictional creations? I'm not sure yet.

I submitted the first six pages in my novel-writing class, and look forward to receiving the teacher’s critique tomorrow (so far all feedback has been through peer-workshopping, which always raises an interesting variety of opinions).

My current plan for the novel is to begin each chapter with a brief quotation from a historic folk/fairytale. Each quotation relates to the events of the chapter. The use of quotations seems to draw forth a mixed response from my fellow students, so I’m curious: do you (intelligent readers of my blog) like quotations at the beginning of chapters, or do you find them annoying/pretentious/something else?


  1. I'm a lover of quotes but I will confess that when I'm reading fiction, I don't like quotes at the beginning of my chapters. I feel it confuses the story between fact and fiction. But that's just my humble opinion! I also believe that you as the author get the final say on your manuscript! :-)

  2. I'm of two minds on quotations at the beginning of chapters. They can be cool and illuminating... but I tend to totally skip them the first time I read a book because I need more story. On re-reads, though, I like reading them and seeing how they relate to the story.

    I don't love every protagonist I write. However, if I don't at least like the protagonist, I will not have a lot of fun writing the book, and I figure readers won't enjoy reading it. My first novel had a downright unlikeable protagonist, and I learned a very valuable lesson from writing that book: don't do that again! However, this relates to my greatest need from stories, namely characters I want to be friends with. That's what bumps a book/movie/TV show up into the "LOVE!" category for me, so it makes sense that I need those sorts of characters in my own writing too. Not everyone does! Often, my favorite character is actually a secondary one in my own books, and I love them, but only like my protag lots and lots.

    1. It's interesting that you say that about "only liking" some of your protagonists, since nearly everyone in my writing class says that they love their main character. It would be interesting to poll some famous authors on the question.

    2. It would also be interesting to talk to some of your classmates without anyone else from class around and see if they said the same thing then. I think a lot of times there's this sort of pressure to be fangirly/fanboyish about your own work, which leads to gushing and hyperbolic declarations of adoration toward your characters or story line. I've participated in NaNoWriMo several times, including going to "write-ins" and "meet-ups" with other local participants, and I started to feel like some of the writers were endlessly fawning over their characters because they needed to convince themselves, not just us, of how wonderful they were.

      I've also found that a lot of times when I start writing, I like my characters a lot, but by the time I'm finished spending 50,000+ words with them, I love them dearly. My current novel-in-progress started out with me liking my protag and loving a secondary character, and ended up with me loving them both.


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