by Shelton Bumgarner
Several metaphors are appropriate for a big creative project like a novel. Being pregnant or being an explorer are just two.
Writing a novel is like being pregnant because inevitably if you tell someone you’re writing one, they will tell you all their own horror stories. They will tell you it should take seven years. They will tell you should “just write short stories.” They will do everything in their power to make you feel like shit, to discourage you.
Also, if you’re 100% extroverted like me, the more you talk about writing a novel — especially in the beginning — the more people assume you’re almost finished and that they can read a finished product right now. This is frustrating on many levels, one of them being just because you talk about being pregnant doesn’t mean you can hold the baby.
Meanwhile, writing a novel is also much like sailing a ship across the horizon in search of a new world. I have no idea if all this work is going to produce anything of note. I have been working on this novel for almost a year now and things are only now beginning to click.
With all that said, let’s run the numbers.
As we enter the first part of the second act, we are about 40,000 words. The sweet spot for a popular novel apparently is about 165,00 to 185,000 words. If your first act is supposed to be about 20% of the total work, then I’m a little over the mark, but not too much. And, remember, this is just the first draft. I’m going to have to write it all over again several times in the coming months (if everything goes according to plan.)
Right now, I’m wrapping up the first layer of sketching out the first part of the second act. I know the story so well that this is flowing really well — so far. I believe I can wrap it up today. I might even be able to start writing again. I’ve found doing all my development in longhand works well with my personality.
In my head, my “midpoint switch” is likely to happen a little later than it should. I’m assuming that each scene is about 1,000 words, so I’m using that as a rough guide. But I’ve found that scenes are often short than that — especially when there’s a lot of face-paced action.
One little thing is I need to flatten the story out some. Right now things change gears after the midpoint and I have to prepare the audience for it. I don’t want it to be seen as a hodge-podge of genres.
Making it obvious that this story is an exploration of the Trump Era without coming off as too preachy is also a big deal for me. As I’ve said before Hobbs & Shaw was a political move, in a sense, but it did it on the sly. My dream is to write an fasted-paced summer read thriller that the center-Right part of the audience won’t even notice is me ranting at them. While the center-Left portion of the audience will see it right away and get excited at a little bit of catharsis.
That’s the dream. A lot depends on luck, luck, luck and if my actual writing ability is up to the task. Trump is such a specific person — and my writing not good enough to replicate him as a character — that I’m not even trying. I’m using someone else as the basis for my Villain’s personality.
The more serious I become with the novel, the less I care about the fantastical idea that it will not only be published, but become successful enough to catch Hollywood’s eye. I just don’t see that happening. And, yet, I do daydream sometimes.
This comes up the most when I think about the age difference between my Hero and Heroine. While it helps a lot for me on several different levels if my Hero is in his 40s and my Heroine in her early 20s, ethnically it makes me uncomfortable. But given the exact nature of the romantic involvement, I think I might be able to convince myself to let it happen. There are too many great actors in their 40s — and I can relate to a Hero in his 40s.
One thing that really grates on my nerves is I’m going through all this work to hopefully write a Heroine that women like and yet I know even that won’t placate people like Olivia Wilde and Jessica Chastain. They complain when men don’t write good characters for them, then they complain that a woman didn’t write it to begin with.
But I’m very aware of the need for strong female characters — painfully aware. And I’m also aware of the need for representation in pop art. All I can say is I’m trying my best to square the circle on that one. And, yet, in this age of identity politics me being a middle-aged white male is doing me no favors.
So, that’s it. That’s where things stand with the novel at the moment. Best case scenario is I wrap up the first draft by Dec. 1st. I give myself a month to reflect on it and start the second draft Jan. 1st. I have a feeling my life may grow rather chaotic in early 2020, so that may delay things a little bit.
But if I happen to get through early 2020 unscathed, I think I should be on track to finish the second draft — the draft I’ll show beta readers — by maybe April or May of 2020.
migukin (at) gmail (dot) com