The next great American novel
On March 2, 986, Louis V became king of the Franks. On March 2, 1619, Anne of Denmark died at 44. On that date in 1793, Sam Houston was born. On the same date in 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico, and on that cold date in 2010, while not as dramatic perhaps as the previous events, several aspiring writers and I wrapped up a fantastic six-week seminar on writing the novel.
I can list several reasons the class was so exceptional, all of which begin with enthusiastic folks who were eager to learn the nuts and bolts of the writing business, the novel specifically.
Naturally, it is absurd to believe one can learn all one needs in such a short period. Any writer worth his salt will tell you he keeps learning new things every day. Kinda like some rear ends you see at the store, the learning just keeps going on and on. Like they said in a movie, “It’s never ending.”
Bubbling with inspiration, many have the desire to write, but haven’t the slightest idea where to begin. That is precisely the point at which we start, with the basics. Our primary objective is to pinpoint exactly what our goal will be, a snap shot you might say of what the writer has in mind. This premise is the lynchpin of the book.
Once we have that one or two sentence statement, then we’re off the races. Of course, during the race, we must be aware of those obstacles most writers detest, the mechanics of good writing.
Unfortunately that means we develop an uneasy relationship with pictorial nouns, strong verbs, clear antecedents, important adjectives, and as few adverbs as possible.
With this group of eager writers, it all clicked into place like that perfect buy on E-bay.
And when we hit scenes and transitions, they ate it up like Thanksgiving dinner. The written work they did at home and in class illustrated an astonishing creativity that not even Julia Childs could match in her kitchen.
One constant I’ve striven to convey to all writing classes is that they are by themselves when it comes to writing the novel, rewriting the manuscript, and then the marketing process that follows.
By March 2, we had our premises, our opening paragraphs, knew our endings, and had roughed out an outline or storyboard covering the middle of the book. We knew our characters, our protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters better than our best friend.
We did our best to pinpoint each of the plot points, the turning points that send the story in a different and unexpected direction.
And above all, we loaded the story down with one conflict after another in an effort to keep our readers in anticipation of what would happen next. Every time the action slowed, we tossed another body off the bridge.
Our last night was jammed with the more tedious but just as important tasks of learning the yes and no’s of the dreaded synopsis and the crucial query letter.
I always enjoy these sessions. They not only refresh my enthusiasm, but remind me of various techniques that I have permitted to fall unseen into some dusty corner of my writing process.
Most of all, I gain immeasurable satisfaction knowing that perhaps my contributions have aided a hopeful author to produce the “Great American Novel.”
And this class could do it. Even before we left that last night, they had set up a critique group, an invaluable aid to any writer, experienced or not.
If down the road, they give me permission to reveal more about their group accepting new members, I’ll pass along the word. One thing I can assure you, those folks are in it for the long haul.