Writing a novel is straight up demonic possession. You create a world teeming with characters, and then your characters conspire against you. They decide the balance of power is all wrong. And when that happens, you better watch out.
Picture it. You, spell-casting sorcerer, bent over your cauldron in your favorite star-studded purple robe. I summon thee, protagonist. Live! LIVE!!
Later that afternoon, you’re shoveling the front walk with your:
- Swim suit
- Rubber duck floaty
Neighbors drive by. Your chin juts out. “S’up?”
Fiction writing is madness. Madness I say! For some, it’s Jack Torrance at the Overlook Hotel. For others it’s Paul Sheldon trapped in Annie Wilkes’ home, and forced to rewrite the fate of Misery Chastain. For still others, it’s Stephen King being Stephen King.
Fiction writing is a lonely process. Perhaps that’s why we invite our characters into our personal lives. They keep us company. They care about what happens in the book, even before anyone else has had a chance to see it. They care about our book even when no one else cares enough to read it.
This isn’t a pity party. This is how it goes. Not every story is for every reader. Mind boggling, I know. Finding your target reader can be weird. It can be a bit like internet dating. The profile looked good, but then you meet in person, and—BOOM—your date is Zergladon the Zornk. Only you’re still getting over the last Zornk you dated. Just think. If this Zornk would’ve been up front about being a Zornk, you could’ve spared each other a lot of embarrassment. But no.
Every fiction writer knows what it is to complete a first draft. (For those who don’t write fiction, the process is commonly called “shoveling shit.”) Every fiction writer knows what it is to produce a second draft. (AKA, the delicate alchemy wherein, if you’re lucky, shit becomes Shinola.) Ah, but now we’ve reached the third draft! Cue the choir of angels. Things are getting good. There is much hand sanding. This may be the point where you find yourself shoveling snow in your swim suit–but wait, we haven’t even begun the final stretch. You can’t afford to be totally out of your mind yet. You’ll still need it for what’s to come.
Perhaps you’ll enlist “BETA readers” to take the temperature of the book. (Read: blind date with Zergladon the Zornk.) But if you’ve been burned by a Zornk, you may instead decide to put that book on the shelf for a few years. Get some distance while you go through the whole process again with a different book. One that has you contemplating homicidal thoughts, because this one is about a mother whose child was killed in a school shooting, and is now hellbent on revenge. She targets politicians and NRA executives. It’s bloody and mean. It’s John Wick, but with a pissed off grieving mama.
Ah, there are personalities we can’t inhabit, it’s true. But we find our way into them anyway. Usually no one gets killed.
There are jokes that fall flat and need fixing. There are entire novels without a single believable character. There are others where every characterization is a cliche, yet each cliche is somehow central to the plot.
There are rewrites, and rewrites, and rewrites. Eventually that manuscript may go to publication, if you’re lucky, and then there’s the next lengthy process. And on it goes.
But in the beginning, it started with you, alone, and words on a glowing screen. I’ve noticed there are always words, writing books. Curious. I’ve further noticed the words are numerous, and most of them get left behind.
It can be a lonely road, but at least it isn’t one of those stupid “less traveled” ones. This road is shared by every other fiction writer. You’ll recognize us by the fact that we wear blinders. (Or maybe rubber duck floaties, depends.) If you should ever be fortunate enough to see one coming down the street someday, be sure to go right up to him and kick him where it counts. When he asks why, say, “Misery loves company.” And if that doesn’t work, say, “My protagonist told me to do it.”