Saturday, January 21, 2017

Starting the First Novel

I have always read fiction, visiting the local library frequently when young, and then buying romance novels at my job at age 15 in a drugstore in my hometown. The store had a soda bar where employees could pretty much help themselves, and a book rack I loved to explore. I discovered the library didn't have some of the books sold on those racks. After about two weeks of ice cream, malts, and sodas,  I no longer liked ice cream, but the book rack always drew me.

Have you ever noticed how some genre stories are told and retold endlessly? I've read where there are only seven plot lines. This I think, is debatable because so much else comes into play in a story, but still, I think every reader has come across remarkably similar stories.

That started happening to me when I lived in Colorado Springs for a year. My husband got a job offer in St. Louis, but the kids were in the Colorado Springs school system, and we had a lease on a house. I remained in Colorado. I couldn’t find a book whose plot wasn’t a rehash of something I'd already read. Some publishers seem to specialize in this effort, even the titles being somewhat repetitious such as the Millionaire's Bride or whatever (now the billionaire's). To fill my time I started writing my own romance story. I worked on it every night after the kids were in bed. Finally the next summer we moved to the St. Louis area.

The novel I was working on stalled as I found a full-time job. I remember the characters, Gina and Wade, and the start of the plotline, but have long since lost the actual story. Looking back, I know this was a ‘hidden’ baby book plot, i.e. mom has baby father doesn’t know about for this or that reason. That was okay as I had started another story, this time in another genre I loved, scifi and fantasy. Actually, I’ve since decided all fiction is fantasy. I’ve said this before. It’s all about how reality dresses up the story.

At that time I mostly wrote for my own entertainment. Finally, I finished one and sent the manuscript to a publisher with great expectations. I never realized how awful it was until I received the first rejection. Not the plot, but the actual writing. This came with a reread of what I had sent in. Certainly it was a reality check. The characters lacked dimension, and needless wordiness invaded the paragraphs. Suddenly I became aware of the importance of editing.

I refreshed my grammar skills (admittedly spelling is still a problemprobably a genetic thing) and read several books on writing. Then I rewrote that rejected book which soon became three stories. I'm not saying the original writing was horrible, awful, terrible as I had a very good high school that emphasized English, and I wrote many papers in college that earned good grades. Fiction, however, is different. In some ways, it takes more thinking as the writer’s goal is to grab and hold the reader's imagination. Even in basically unbelievable scenarios (some real-life situations share this characteristic), the writer needs to fulfill the reader's need to believe these scenarios are possible and real. Writers do that by allowing the reader to share the characters' emotions and reactions.

Writing a novel is a long and difficult project. Which is why everyone thinks they want to write a book, but few complete one. Even then, once the actual story is complete, the herculean task of finding a publisher looms.

Please visit the blogs listed below to see more opinions on writing that first novel and how it was accomplished.

Skye Taylor
Margaret Fieland
Heather Haven
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham
Helena Fairfax
Beverley Bateman
Marci Baun 
Judith Copek

Rachael Kosinsk
Diane Bator
A.J. Maguire 


  1. LOL, Rhobin. I am not a natural speller, and memorized many lists of spelling words as a kid. My oldest son is not a good speller by nature either, and when he was in high school, he had me edit the scenarios he wrote for the dungeons and dragon games he played with his friends. When I asked him why, he told me his friends *were* good spellers, and they teased him about his mistakes.

  2. I'm a good speller, which is helpful when you're an editor/publisher. LOL

    Writing is not particularly easy, but it is rewarding. When you type "The End," it's one of the best feelings...until you do it again. LOL

    I really enjoyed your blog post. It's been fun reading about how everyone got started and what keeps them going.


  3. As you know from my entry on this topic, spelling wasn't always my strong suit either. Long after Mr. Keye's influence on my life and spelling habits, I found what sounds like a very rational explanation - English does not derive from a single language source, as say the romance languages or the many that evolved from the original Polynesian/Oceanic languages. English, on the other hand, has bits and pieces of half a dozen sources including Latin, Celtic, Germanic etc. And by incorporating all these different sources, the rules of spelling and pronunciation got mixed up and are inconsistent. When I had to learn Tongan, a Polynesian language while in the Peace Corps, I discovered that all the vowels are ALWAYS pronounced the same way and ALL vowels are always pronounced, even if there are two or three in succession. Makes sense that if you can speak the language spelling is easy. Not so much with English where the same vowel can sound four different ways and the same combination of vowels or consonants are pronounced differently. Just because you know how to say it doesn't mean you have a clue which of the letter combinations was used to create the word.

  4. "All fiction is fantasy."
    Rhobin, this speaks to me. If I wrote a story about people I know with enough details changed to avoid being sued, in the real setting of my neighborhood, it would still have invented elements, or it wouldn't be fiction.
    Somehow, I don't see you as a romance person. Maybe you've grown and changed since.


  5. Very notable blog, Robin. Good points and heartfelt. Also, you really bare your soul for us. Thank you. I've been there, will be there again, and it's nice to have company in this lovely madness we call writing.

  6. I've heard from seven plot lines to twenty-one, but I love your insight - so much else comes into play. And writing is a long and difficult process. If you're a writer, you know this.

  7. We have all experienced rejection and come to understand that maybe our first efforts are not our best efforts. This is all part of the writing process. Rejection spurs one on (as it did you) to become a better writer. I've heard there are only two plots: a journey, and a stranger comes to town. I have certainly used a journey is nearly every book. It does not have to be a "real" journey. It can also be an inner journey. This was an interesting post. My parents met and married in Colorado Springs and my husband and I lived in St. Louis as newly weds. Still have a soft spot for those cities.
    This was a super topic with so many interesting responses.

  8. One of my non-writer friends is an avid reader of anything except romance which, she says, is so formulaic it's boring. I think to a degree you could say that of any genre but it's how the story is told that makes it different. Writing a book, like aging, is not for the faint of heart. Congratulations on sticking to it.