I’ve been asked what the hardest part of writing a novel is, and my answer tends to be directly related to how well my novel-building is going at the time. My dad used to have a saying: “Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.”
Some books come together quickly and fun-ly, such as Tom Horn vs. The Warlords of Krupp. It was my first and only steampunk novel. I wrote it one year as my last-minute entry into National Novel Writing Month, the event that calls for participants to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I got on a roll and wrote Tom Horn in 17 days. That’s some kind of record for me, and I don’t think I will beat it anytime soon. It probably wasn’t my best novel, but it was a fun project.
Then there are other projects, such as If Tomorrow Comes and The Champion Trilogy that took me years to write. I think there’s a direct relationship between how complex the story is and how long it takes to write it. Tom Horn was a very straightforward steampunk western, written tongue-in-cheek. The other books have a lot more depth and so require a lot more planning.
When I’m not actually writing, I probably would say that the marketing is toughest. Getting your name out there every day, and getting people to check out your books takes a lot of work, and most authors really aren’t good marketers, myself included. But that issue is for discussion another day.
Right now I am dealing with the birthpangs of my latest project, currently titled Tesla’s Ghost. I envision it as the first book in a dystopian series that involves what some would consider an “alien invasion.” But the first book starts with how it all came to be, beginning with Nikola Tesla and assistant Fritz Lowenstein. In addition, I tell the story of Fritz’s great-great grandson Eli, who is a current-day college student in San Diego. The two stories are tied together by a journal that Fritz keeps for Tesla, which Eli inherits when his grandfather dies.
As you can see, the story is already complex. But take into consideration that I am setting up an entire series, and you can see how I have struggled to get all of the elements together. One of the things I tell my students is that you need to know what writing process works for you, and follow that process; in other words, whatever works. For me, I can’t just sit down and start writing. I have to see the story in my head. And with such a complex story, that’s been a challenge.
Recently I included a scene in this blog that is my experiment with introducing Fritz and his bride Elizabeth to America. I write scenes like that on occasion to get a feel for the characters and how they will work together, as well as the flavor of the environment. That short scene was encouraging, and I hope to share more soon. Today while I was mowing the lawn I thought of another element that I thought would help with the overall plotline. Elizabeth serves as a moral conscience for Fritz and on occasion warns him not to pursue certain questionable things in his research. Some of these bits of advice from her come in the form of dreams. Following the theme of “history repeats itself,” I thought I would like to have Eli have dreams that are warnings as well. I thought it would be interesting to have the same elements happen to a great-great-grandson 120 years later.
These are bricks that individually may or may not be included in the final story, but are essential to the process of building the story for me. Because the bottom line for me is that I have to see the story. Not the whole story, mind you; just enough to get it started. I have been somewhat frustrated with my progress on this project this summer, but I have to be patient. It is coming, I know. And as I tell my students, there is such a thing, believe it or not, as writing a story too soon.