Have you ever heard the old expression, “If it isn’t one thing, it’s something else.”? Writing a book, actually writing anything, is a good way to come up against that expression on a regular basis. I’ve written two science-fiction novels now, and am hotly in the process of writing the rough draft of a third. (They form a trilogy, so there’d better be three of them.) But each book is unique, and each has had its own problems. The first required that I learn how to write fiction from the basic elements to the most sophisticated concepts since I’d never written fiction before. I have written numerous scientific papers, but that’s a far cry from writing fiction, and each draft of the book–and there have been many–was written using what I’d learned up to that point.
Some of the problems have been large-scale, such as what order the chapters are arranged, or how to handle the personality of each of the main characters. Other problems have been smaller, like, does the character have blond hair or dark? Most of the problems, though, have come in the form of inter-personal relationships. For example, how does character A relate to character B and how does B react? This can get tricky, because if character A does one thing, it can affect the actions of many of the other characters later on, and even affect the outcome of the novel. In many cases I’ve had a character act a certain way because it results in the conclusion I wanted, but that character also wound up looking foolish or stupid or insensitive or something, and I’ve had to go back and change him/her. That just brings up more problems.
The end result of a novel has to be a unified whole. A novel can’t ramble on and on, neither can it be too short or unsustainable. There has to be just the right amount of discussion of what happens during each scene in the novel, or the whole thing will fall flat on its face, and problems arise constantly about handling each scene. Broken down into its simplest terms, a novel is really nothing more than a series of words formed into sentences, sentences formed into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters. Every word on every page is a choice among hundreds of thousands in the English language (and, if you write sci-fi, even some that aren’t in the language) and the arrangement of those words makes problems itself. Why, I sometimes ask myself, would anyone want to sit down and work for a year or more just to put eighty or a hundred thousand words in some coherent order on several pieces of paper? You have to want to do it. You have to want to face the question every day, what word will I use here? To face every day, the thousands and thousands of questions and problems, large and small, that arise, and attempt to answer them.
I’ve heard of people who’ve written a hundred or more novels in their lifetime, and my puny two make me look like an unmitigated slacker, especially since neither of mine have been published. But I’ve met the problems of writing a novel, and I believe I’ve done a reasonably good job. Undoubtedly, an agent, then an editor, is going to want to change some things, bringing about more problems, but I’m ready for them. It’s been tricky, tiring, and brain-teasing, but fun. Anybody else out there want to try it?