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 plot line, 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 dressed up in reality the story is.
At that time I mostly wrote for my own entertainment. Finally, I finished one and sent the manuscript to a publisher with great expectation. I never realized until I got my first rejection how awful it was. Not the plot, but the actual writing, until I reread 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 problem—probably 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.
Dr. Bob Rich