Novel Writing Phase One: Stuffing the Cornbread
Trying to write a novel is like trying to stuff the cornbread with the turkey.
Authors have a buffet of stories swirling within us. Beginnings. Endings. All the bits in-between.
While many people move through their days living one moment after another, writers simultaneously inhabit countless places on a complex narrative timeline.
Imagine living the next thirty minutes, hours, or days all at once.
Now imagine living multiple lives in the same way.
That’s a snapshot of a storyteller’s brain.
How do I deal with this cornbread-and-turkey conundrum?
Tiny digestible bites.
When I taught journalism, I advised my students to think of stories like food on a plate. Readers deserve manageable portions. They don’t want to gorge on too many words – no matter how fabulous those words might be.
Every paragraph. Each sentence. Tiny digestible bites.
In novel writing, the manuscript becomes the meal. Chapters become courses, and paragraphs are forkfuls of food. While a magazine article might be 1,000 words, and a novel can exceed 100,000, the same reader is consuming them both.
After I’ve crafted my overall three-act story arc, I zoom in on the first part of the story. First, I’ll sketch the events that happen over three or four chapters. Then I’ll break the foremost chapter into three “mini-acts.”
My favorite technique is to fold a piece of paper into columns and organize before I write. Viewing each chapter as its own “mini-story” keeps me from freaking out about the turkey-stuffed cornbread.
Although I do not write for my readers (as in trying to guess what I should write instead of trusting my own creative voice), I always keep my readers in mind as I write. Whatever the Muse whispers in my ear must be digestible for my readers – and me, too.
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