Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to Write a Novel in 4 Years or Less

Two half-finished attempts at a novel later I've gained a new appreciation for just how hard it is to write one of these behemoths--which makes me wonder how some great authors manage to put out book after book, year after year.

Fortunately there are resources available for an aspiring novelist. How to write a novel in 100 days or less offers daily nuggets of writing wisdom and encouragement over 100 days, aiming to inspire writers and push them through the peaks and troughs that come with writing a novel. I'm also fond of Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules of fiction writing.

These are all general points on writing, but it's the technical aspects of the biz that have me wondering what I'm doing wrong. Is it generally a bad idea to write bass-ackwards and all over the place, perhaps writing the ending before the beginning, or Chapter 4 before Chapter 3? I can't help doing this sometimes, as I have ideas for different scenes and events I want to happen later on in the novel. These are often defining and important twists or developments in the story and I'm anxious to get those written and fleshed out. All this can make for an editing nightmare of cutting and pasting and revising later chapters due to changes in the story in a more-recently written earlier chapter, if that makes sense.

I guess it's just how my brain works, and I'll have to learn to work through it. Or maybe I should stick to short stories.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What Would Updike Write About Today?

A little over a month ago the late American author John Updike was recommended to me by a friend. After sampling some of his writing in the New Yorker and deciding I liked it, I bought "Rabbit Angstrom," an anthology of his four famous "Rabbit" novels, and I've been slowly reading from that bright red tome (often mistaken for a Bible) ever since.

What strikes me so much about the Rabbit novels is the scope of time they cover. They all follow the story of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, but in each novel he is a decade older and living in a different era of American life--starting with cocky 26-year old basketball star navigating the 50's in the first book, "Rabbit, Run" and ending with an aged Rabbit cruising through the 80's in "Rabbit at Rest."

Although on the surface Updike often focused (perhaps a bit too much) on sex, his novels also painted detailed picture of what it meant to be American during each of those decades. Through Rabbit and his sometimes-bizarre and always-changing supporting cast Updike chronicled the hippie culture of the sixties and the moon landing right on through the Japanese car invasion, all the while injecting--often subtly--his opinion into the account.

Given today's uncertain economy and indeed uncertain world I can't help but wonder what Updike might have written about the new millennium and all it has brought us, both good and bad, had he been inclined to expand the Rabbit novels beyond a quartet. Defining moments like 9/11 or the election of our nation's first black president are a given, but what other less obvious hallmarks of this decade would Updike have highlighted? Perhaps the meteoric rise of the internet, cell phones, GPS and other technological gadgetry into mainstream culture? The war in Iraq? the Bush presidency? Global warming and efforts at "going green?"

What themes and events have defined the 00's? Think about it.