I would like to offer support to friends taking the National Novel-Writing Month challenge. I haven’t got the strength to do any challenges lately, but admire those who do. So let me share a series I wrote, back when I had the strength to write weekly essays, in which I imagine writing a novel or having a fan community.
Hi, okay, welcome to this walkthrough of writing a novel. I know we’ve got a lot of new viewers this month because they want to do their NaNoWriMo stuff right. Don’t worry, you should be able to hop right on into this. You all see my novel like it is right now, so let me explain where I’m going.
First, though. Viewpoint. I’m doing third-person omniscient. I mention for the new viewers. I explained why third-person omni like, was it three? episodes ago. Go to that if you want the whole spiel but, in brief: I like it. It’s cozy. I’ve got all my writing macros set up for it. It lets me drop in cynical observations without any characters having to be snarky, which is off-putting when you do it as much as I do. You want to limit readers’ reasons to dislike your characters to the ones that you want, so much as possible. Third person limited is okay. It’s a harder level for getting dramatic irony but sometimes you want the challenge. First person is the easy mode for suspense, the extra-hard mode for dramatic irony. Figure how hard you want to write your stuff. Also you think you get away with any continuity errors by playing the ‘unreliable narrator’ card. Everybody knows that trick so they don’t fall for it. Neutral there.
ClashOSymbols, I see you already rushing to the comments section and you’re wrong. Second person is not happening, and you’re not gonna make it happen. Everything you do in second-person reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. By the third time anyone reads a Choose Your Own Adventure, all they’re doing is reverse-engineering the Happy Ending. Do it in a straight novel and you hit the Choose-Your-Own problem, where ‘you’ get told you’re doing or thinking something you would never do. Yes, shut up, a reader who pretends enough will go along with you. But every line you get wrong is fighting the suspension-of-disbelief and a whole novel of that doesn’t work. You’ve got better fights to pick with your readers than what they think they’d do in your scenario.
Also no it’s not second-person if the setup is the person who did the thing telling it to ‘you’. You are so wrong. New viewers, meet ClashOSymbols. That first impression you’ve got of him? You have him pegged. Short-short version, I’m right, he’s wrong, we’re just delaying his inevitable admission. And yeah, interests of fairness, read his walkthrough yourself for the wrong side of things.
Back to the writing. Up here, that’s the Meet Cute. This isn’t a romance, but my leads didn’t know each other before the book starts. They have to have some reason to stick together. They aren’t in a spot they can be ordered to stick together, and it’s so hard having an emotion about a new person. They gotta be shoved together and that’s why it’s a Meet Cute.
So. New York subway scene. Protagonist rescues the guy from the manic guy stabbing the air with a knife, other guy says it was a magician and shows his cell phone photo to prove it. That works. Readers can imagine knifeketeers on the New York subway. They maybe heard from someone how there was a magician performing on a car or in a station on a big city subway. Readers’ll buy it. And the characters have some reason to keep talking because one has the photo of the knifeketeer, the other the magician. All that doesn’t make sense.
So here you see they try guessing about some quantum mechanics multi-world thing. Neither of them knows enough quantum mechanics to figure how that makes sense. That’s fine, it doesn’t make sense. But they can make wild guesses that maybe explain it, and I don’t have to commit to anything. This is important. Everything you write as a fact in your book is something you can get wrong. Every statement is a chance to break the reader’s suspension-of-disbelief. If you want to do science fiction don’t ever explain how something works in enough detail that any reader can check the numbers. They’ll never ever work. Stay vague and you can insist you’re really writing “hard” science-respecting science fiction. Plus you can boast you spared the readers the boring calculations that would prove it.
This does something else important too. But I’m about out of time for this installment. Hope you learned something useful for your novel-writing. Catch you next week with some more walking through. And, yeah, ClashOSymbols, as always, commenter of the week for that killer pumpkin snark. Congratulations. Folks should check what he has to say out. He can write so brilliant an argument you almost forget he’s wrong. Catch you later.
About the Author: Joseph Nebus has an unpublished Star Trek: The Next Generation novel from back when he was a teenager that dear Lord you will never ever EVER SEE YOU CANNOT IMAGINE HOW WELCOME YOU ARE. He is currently working on an ambitious project of grousing about others’ success.