Adventures in Novel Writing

Novel writing: Ernest Hemingway Writing at Campsite in Kenya ...

Ernest Hemingway Writing at Campsite in Kenya – NARA – 192655 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What sort of adventures do you get into when writing a novel?

It depends if you’re the writer or the character.

Take Trish:

“Trish sat on the board in the attic and crossed her legs trying to avoid the itchy insulation material. “Lord, am I out of my mind?””

What do you think? She’s been stuck in the attic since March 29, 2011, when I abandoned her to do the edits on my The Dogtrot Christmas novella.

I think about her from time to time, a little guilty, yearning to at least get her out of the precarious position her brother, a well-know woodwinds professor at, gasp, USC, convinced her she needed to take.

I turn the story, The Lion and the Blackbird,  over in my mind and remember her father’s unnecessarily harsh words and the emotional duel he’s put her through.

And I remember another gruff and ailing elderly man.

Trish needs to stay up there awhile longer.

Like grief,  novel writing can take you to places you don’t expect to go.

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As the author, you’re God. You’ve got your story at least slightly planned and you know where you’re going to end up. What you can’t necessarily foretell is the emotional bumps you may hit as you go along.

For example, Susan and her four year-old went into the chicken coop to feed the birds.

“Luke poked the hen. A scuffle. The little boy began to shriek– the high-pitched scream every mother fears.

“Blood streamed down his face, apparently from his eye. He held the bloody mess and ran to Susan, other arm outstretched. She snatched him up, shoved the baying dog aside and bolted out the door. It crashed shut behind her.

“Let me see, let me see,” Susan begged once they got into the sunshine.”

Like Luke and Susan, I didn’t see that attack coming. Even as I typed, tears welled in my eyes. I plucked my hands off the keyboard and cried.

Getting to Theo’s Wedding is about an earnest penny-pinching Navy wife whose husband has been gone to sea too long. I wrote it 15 years after my husband’s last submarine deployment, but in typing those words the searing loneliness, fear, and pain from poorly-timed separations, overwhelmed.

Story will do that to you.

Even one you wrote yourself.

Why do some writers need alcohol to fuel their words? Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, even Zelda Fitzgerald, were driven by demons to tell their stories. To cut their imaginary veins and let the words pour out like blood–just as sticky, just as red, just as harrowing as the emotions they’d bottled up inside.

It takes tremendous courage to expose those often long-hidden emotions for the world to see, pick apart, or for the author themselves to recognize.

I didn’t expect  novel writing to ambush me with emotional booby traps.

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Susan’s story has a happy ending. That accident with the chicken prompted a reconciliation within her family. I finished writing the manuscript

Indeed, I return to Getting to Theo’s Wedding when I feel homesick for the ridiculous things that happened when my little boys’ dad was out to sea. I wrote the novel so my family would understand my life and the quirkiness I acquired because of it. I read it now to remember all those adventures, plus the ones novel writing added to the story. (We’ve never owned chickens).

As for Trish, well, she’s still up in the attic hunting for the lost oboe.

I may even let her find it someday!

I just need to be ready to deal with those emotions, first.

If you’re a writer, has writing a novel provided you with any personal, maybe unexpected, adventures?novel writing

If you’re a reader, what emotions has a novel tricked out of you?


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  1. Interesting topic!

    I don’t really get involved in the emotional lives of my characters – they’re individuals, as I see them, with their own reality. I’m simply writing their stories, more as a journalist than creatively. I know this implies a different type of creativity – but I can’t feel it.

    One interesting side-effect is that my own emotions are less apparent. I’ve never been an emotive person, to put it mildly – my late mother-in-law said she knew I was a Vulcan at our first meeting, and never changed that view (she loved me dearly, and I, her).

    But it’s even more the case since I began writing seriously. I weigh everything I say for possible emotional content – real, or as may be perceived by another – and filter it out.

    I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day with this admission – but analysis is something I have no intent of permitting!

    • Michelle Ule

       /  January 29, 2014

      Vulcans unite, eh?

      That happens to be one of my issues–because I trained as a journalist, I tend to lean in that direction. Usually, I have to go back and add the emotion, so it’s a surprise when it sneaks up on me and bites!
      But, since most readers are looking for an emotional experience–in part while they read fiction–it’s important to make sure it’s there.

      I think I’m going to be talking about counseling and writing a novel on Friday . . . 🙂

  2. I am often surprised by the unexpected responses of my characters, who sometimes take me completely by surprise with their actions, or comments. I am usually intrigued by these little surprises, but have learned not to let these moments sidetrack the scene. sometimes their stubbornness doesn’t help things, but it does make me think long and hard about what really makes them tick. (They are alive, aren’t they?)


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