the pythagorean novelist

"My dear old bird," he said, "there are moments in this life when the only thing is to plot--and to plot like billy-o." -- P.G. Wodehouse, If I Were You

For each of the following, draw a diagram to illustrate the given. Then list definitions, postulates, or theorems that could be used to prove each of the following. -- Foster, Cummins, and Yunker, Merrill Geometry

One of the things that frustrates me most about writing: it's never the same process. Day after day, you never know what will happen.

Unsurprisingly, that's also one of the reasons why I love it. And while it drives my control-freak Type-A side berserk, it thrills my more adventurous side to sit down to my desk each day.

As I mentioned the other day, I've been building the sequel to my first novel. That's what 2010 has been so far: taking that story from a bare idea, to a fuller concept, to a thirty-three page outline. And it's still growing, still collecting scenes.

I've learned so much in this writing enterprise. One of the biggest lessons is that every novel has a different process. For my first novel, I just drafted my brains out, flailing away at scene after scene. I wrote my second novel by taking the Nanowrimo 2009 challenge and writing a book where truly anything could happen. I had no idea where each chapter would take me, and I worked without a shred of an outline.

And plotting this novel, this sequel, feels--surprise!--a lot more like geometry than like flirting with muses.

I started out in January with a sweaty fistful of ideas: the name and skeleton of a character, the barest whiff of a plot, one scene from the protagonist's backstory, and my main location. (An ancient, cathedral-like library... swoon.)

I also had everything I've learned about novels so far. Principles for good characterization, compelling backstories, motives, villains, tension, dialogue, description. And everything my gut tells me about good stories, characters I love, and places I want to read about.

A few ideas, a lot of principles. And the biggest proof of my life: given the ideas above, prove that you can write another novel.

That's what "preproduction" has been like: Jenn versus the blank page before the blank page. Facing the yawning white wilderness of the book, where anything can happen.

So I went to work with my geometry skills. Poking the information I had, testing the "laws" I knew, and asking a million questions of my characters, my plot, my setting. Circling around and around my ignorance, and taking a ton of notes. (I always used a lot of blank paper in geometry, too.)

And as with proofs, I began to see, at the very least, the exact shape of the information I was missing.

Several months later, there are still some gaps, and a few of them are more like chasms. (Do I have a climax yet? Uh, no. But I do know the last four scenes, so that's something.)
But I'm still asking questions, still taking notes. And building the courage to test my outline late in August...

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