Thursday, 28 May 2009

Why Write a Novel?

The first question I hear is "what's it about?" The second is "Why did you write it? Why in god's name take so much time and effort to write so many words, that no-one will probably read anyway?" Good question.

To answer, I'll start by paraphrasing something I once read by Stephen King - 'Every novel or story already exists. It is the author's job to merely uncover it'. Like a fossil, I guess. It took me a while to understand fully what Stephen King meant by that comment, but I think, three novels later, I'm close to grasping it.

The process of a novel begins with a tiny glimpse of an idea. Something that may work. Over the next few weeks, months, I would, when my mind had time to wander, let it settle on the growing spot of the idea. Maybe I would make some notes, maybe I would do some research, maybe I would try and write a plan. This would invariably fail. At that early stage, any effort to solidify my ideas would be like an archaeologist digging for a fossil, whilst only knowing which country the fossil is to be found. I tried to write the first chapter of Russalka before I was ready, and it was a laborious and awful affair, abandoned after two miserable evenings.

At some stage though, out of the blue, the fully formed story suddenly appears. For Russalka it happened whilst walking into town one day, listening to the Arcade Fire on my ipod. In a flash, the full story was suddenly there, in my head, a film condensed into a one second flash, every scene downloaded in prefect order and reason. The characters I had been considering either manifested fully, or evaporated into the character graveyard. The settings, the scenes, the detail, the feel of the novel, all wrapped around my idea like a jealous fog. All the themes I had considered connected in one coherent picture, and I finally saw the novel. I'd finally discovered where to dig.

That's what Stephen King meant (disclaimer - for me anyway :-)). The weeks and months of weaving of various ideas and schemes were fashioned impeccably by my subconscious, or muse, if you prefer to retain a mystical approach to writing. It was ready. And once a novel is ready, it has to be written. It's rather inconvenient writing a novel, but it's more inconvenient to ignore it. There comes a point when you have to write the damn thing.

That's why.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting concept. I like most writers have several ideas germination for novels or books. I have a couple partially written. Time that is the problem. However as I get more ideas I jot them down and keep it all in one place. The reason I write is for my own self-satisfaction. If someone wants to read it so much the better.