Novels Are Like Onions

When I started writing, my biggest hang-up was the misguided notion of Writer with a capital W. If I’m a real Writer, I thought, I should be able to sit down whenever I feel like it and write something good—nay, groundbreaking! If I’m a real Writer, the words should magically pour forth from my sweat glands onto the page! Right?

Wrong. And as a result, I spent years just trying to get off the ground as a writer. I would get a spark of inspiration, sit down to write the Next Great American Novel/Short Story/Poem/Whatever, then give up half an hour later when I realized the first draft wasn’t even close to perfect. I would then decide “I’m not a real writer” and quit writing for months—before coming back to repeat the process all over again.

Then a couple of years ago, when I started my current novel, something finally clicked. I was watching Shrek one night while working on my first draft, and I realized that novels, like onions and ogres, have layers. Many, many layers. This applies not only to book-length fiction, but to any form of writing, including memoirs, short stories, poems, and even this blog post. It takes a lot of time, thought, and effort to get all those layers in place and working together, so no first draft is going to be perfect. And guess what? That’s okay.

Imagine building a house: you can’t paint the bathroom until you’ve installed the plumbing. Some budding writers (including me, at one time) think that being a writer means pouring cement, wiring electricity, and picking out drapes all at once. But in fact, writing anything requires multiple drafts so you can put all those layers into place and make sure they’re working together. This, dear writer, is why the writing gods created revision.

Here are some of the many layers I’ve seen in my writing:

  • Premise
  • Plot
  • Conflict
  • Pacing
  • Characters
  • Physical description
  • Emotion
  • Motivation
  • Character relationships
  • Suspense
  • Foreshadowing
  • Voice
  • Tone
  • Mood and atmosphere
  • Setting
  • Worldbuilding
  • Dialogue
  • Body language and facial expression
  • Internal thoughts
  • Themes
  • Symbolism
  • Writing style
  • Word choice
  • Imagery
  • Metaphors and similes
  • Chapter breaks and cliffhangers

I’m sure there are more. But from this list alone, can you see why it’s unrealistic to expect to do it all at once? Start with a single layer, or a handful, then let the others fall into place as you revise.

Which layers to start with? That’s up to you. In my experience, it varies from one writer to another and from one project to the next. My current novel started with a premise and a main character—they were the foundations of the house. Then I added elements that came relatively easily to me, like pacing, foreshadowing, and dialogue. It wasn’t until several drafts later that I finished fleshing out my worldbuilding and added my best imagery and metaphors.

Because there are so many layers, it can be hard to spot the ones that are underdeveloped or missing altogether. This is where critique partners and beta readers come in. If they’re reading for big-picture stuff (i.e., not copyediting for you), they’ll notice if something is lacking. I remember finishing what I thought was the final draft of my current work-in-progress, only to have readers tell me I had left out my main character’s thoughts and feelings. That’s a huge layer to omit—and because I was so close to the work, I never noticed it myself.

So don’t fret over these layers. Start with what feels natural and just keep going, getting help from your trusted readers. Like peeling an onion, let yourself discover the layers as you peel them back one by one. And yes, there will probably be a few tears, too.

Newsletter Conclusions – Worldbuilding!

I know that various RMFW writers have talked about newsletters, but this is my personal, particular (and perhaps peculiar – sorry, I'm having fun with the alliteration!) take on the business and pleasures of newsletters.

I started (after many years, and AGAIN), a monthly newsletter last July, soon after I epublished my first novella (Lost Heart).

Publishing a newsletter is a love/hate relationship:
I hate taking the time from writing.
I love writing something creative for the newsletter instead of struggling with my current manuscript.
I hate formatting the sucker with pictures and text. It takes ALL DAY.
I love finding pictures (mostly my own due to copyright restrictions) for the newsletter . . . and I can use an old graphic I still love from my first website as a header.

And so it goes. Since it's a monthly newsletter, it usually goes out in the last days of the month, because that's how I am, I procrastinate.

Though I have two current series going, the reader favorite is my Celta HeartMate series. Unless I have a book out in the Ghost series (contemporary paranormal featuring ghosts of the Old West, mostly Colorado), I spend most of my time on Celta.

I have done: maps of the world, maps of portions of the world, pictures of the Residences (intelligent houses, mostly castles or manor houses), timeline of the books (from the colonists leaving Earth and the generational starships in outer space, to the current year of a short story due at the end of the month – 425 years after colonization).

Most recently I did an article from one of the news sheets, the Druida City Times, announcing the building of a new village, Multiplicity. Included were pictures of a model mansion, the community center, and a home designed by the architect planning the community. I wanted to do this as a teaser for my work in progress and the next full book.

I predated this "article" two and a half months before the day of the erection of the community (magic, folks), which is the next scene I'm writing in the manuscript, so comments about the newsletter HELPED WITH MY OWN MOTIVATION TO WRITE.

That is another way a newsletter can help you:

You know from feedback that you aren't alone, no matter how dark and cold is the early winter night. People like your work, and will support your writing, again, motivation to write, other writers as well as readers.

You can clarify the story in your own mind if you talk about a work in progress.
You can remind yourself why you like the story, and why you're writing it.

If you're promoting a recently released story/novella/book, you can reconnect with that story and get re-energized about it. (I don't know about you, but the piece I like best is the one I've just finished and is being released). You can be excited about sharing another story, a brand new story to your readers.

YOU are in control of the newsletter, what goes in, photos or character interviews or fake news articles or maps. You can be creative with this in a totally different manner than you have when writing.

Be free, and experiment with your newsletter, and have fun. That will show in your newsletter (like it does in your stories).

Have wonderful holidays and I'll talk to you in the new year.

Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again.
Robin