by Shelt Garner
It took me significantly longer than I thought, but I’ve stabilized the rebooted first draft of the novel I’ve been working on for some time now. A lot is going on and a lot could still go wrong, but I’m at least content with the first scene. The hardest part of writing the first scene is how much you don’t show.
You have all this stuff you reference but don’t explain, hoping people will turn the page. It’s so easy to do something akin to a datadump in your excitement to explain this great story you’ve come up with. But I’ve studied my textbook, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire, and after much struggle I’ve figured out how to introduce in general terms what’s going on.
It seems as though what you’re supposed to do is introduce your novel’s universe in a very simple, direct way. Little or no dialogue. Introduce a little bit of a mystery and theme. But don’t overwhelm the reader with too much information that either won’t make any sense or will take you too long to explain if you try to make it do so.
The reason why I like having a “textbook” is it’s like journalistic writing — once you understand what’s expected in that type of writing then it’s pretty easy (at least for me) to write something that hones to those expectations. I just have no idea what I’m doing and out of sheer desperation I’m really studying in very exact detail what Larsson does in my “textbook.” Artists borrow and great artists steal, as they say.
Having said that — there’s a massive amount of my “textbook” that I’m ignoring. Larsson does too much backstory and is way too languid in pacing for my needs. I want to get right to the story. Snap. Snap. But I am definitely keeping an eye on what he did to have some frame of reference.
My novel is completely different than The Girl Who Played With Fire, but it is at least in the same genre. So it helps to understand what a successful book does and then follow that path. When I kept talking about the book for years as being a “textbook example of how to write a novel,” I didn’t realize that I would endup using it as exactly that when I decided to write a novel on my own.
Let me stress — I really have no idea what I’m doing. But over the last two years, I’ve come up with some very strong opinions about how I develop and write a novel. In the process, I’ve begun to understand why successful authors act the way they do. It’s tough figuring out how to develop a novel according to your own personality.
I see some much stuff on Twitter from novices like me who are writing novels that make my blood boil. They just seem so preening and cloyingly annoying. I want serious discussions about how the sausage is made, not bullshit drivile about what your MC looks like. Fuck that.
Anyway, the novel is on track again. I still have a massive amount of reading to do that I keep not finding time for. My biggest problem right now is I don’t have any editor (read: girlfriend or wife) to tell me what to do when two mutually exclusive plot points are of equal value in my mind. I think I may have figured out how to square circle for the most recent occurrence of this problem, but we’ll see.
The biggest issue with the novel is out of my control — who is going to win the 2020 Election? The novel is so drenched in modern politics that whomever wins the election is going to dramatically change the context of the story. I still think that no matter what, there will be an audience for a novel that aims to be the Apocalypse Now (or maybe Network?) of the Trump Era.
We’ll see, I guess.