Beginning a new novel is like preparing for a first date. The excitement of the unknown beckons, spiced with dashes of fear. Could this book be Mr. Right, which for a novel means a story that writes itself, with fascinating characters, a plot with the right number of twists and turns, a deep and compelling theme, settings that come alive on the page? Or am I looking at Mr. Wrong, the book that stutters along for months before flopping into an ungraceful heap on the floor, begging me to put it out of its misery?
Most novels—indeed, most books—fall into neither camp. They act more like marriages, starting out slow as the spouses circle each other, testing for strengths and weaknesses, alternating between periods of strife and wild reconciliations, maturing over time into deep, rewarding partnerships. I experience profound satisfaction as I watch my characters come alive, develop backgrounds and preferences, move and speak and interact with one another, live their own lives in their own way as adult children must. On good days, I become less a writer than a recorder, typing whatever I see and hear. Only later do I decide that I need to rein in Character X or redirect Character Y (although some characters put up a fight!), to edit for structure and style.
So here I sit, at the beginning of a brand-new journey, with a plot at best roughly sketched in and characters little better than stereotypes, their motivations hazy and their unique approaches and speech patterns dimly glimpsed through the fog of convention. Where will they take me, I wonder, and what will I learn on the way?
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