Discover more from The Next Novel
Anna and I had not one but two (!!) book work sessions this week and now I feel ready to finish the remaining scenes
Last week I polled y’all and the majority spoke: stop futzing with things that need to be fixed and just write forward.
And that’s what I’m doing, for the most part! I did go back and fix just a couple of small things that were going to bug me otherwise. But from here on out, I’m keeping a running list of things I know need to be changed in the first 58,000 words, but I won’t worry about them until I’ve got a full draft.
This week in writing
Anna and I met twice this week. Wednesday night, over beers at Sycamore, we pulled up the novel outline spreadsheet and filled in almost every missing piece. We have most of a plot, with a few holes that I am trusting will fill themselves over the next couple of weeks.
That night, there was a break in the rain New York had been experiencing for days, and I for one had no idea what was coming less than thirty-six hours later. (Spoiler alert: I did not make it to Morning Writing Club on Friday because I was dealing with the rain that was pouring into our apartment in multiple places! All good now for us, damages are reparable, but it was not my favorite day.)
On Saturday, when the flood waters receded, Anna came over and we tackled a scene I have been avoiding writing. I’ve been avoiding it for a few reasons:
I want it to be a pivotal scene in the book. During this scene, there will be major shifts in the way some of the characters see each other. Realizations will be had. Things will be said that can’t be unsaid. Secrets will be revealed. I feel like a lot is riding on this scene. I want to do it justice.
It’s a dinner scene, where multiple characters are gathered around a table, and the narrator will have access to more than one character’s POV.1 I’ve never written a scene like this before, and because I’ve never done it, I don’t have proof that I can do it. I’m pretty sure I’ll figure it out, but how many tries will it take? I’ve been a little intimidated, frankly.
Until yesterday, I wasn’t super clear on each character’s motivations — what is each of them trying to get, and how is each of them currently feeling about every other person around the table? What baggage are they each bringing into this dinner? These things felt crucial to know before going in.
So Anna and I basically blocked it out. I drew the table on a sheet of paper and I wrote the characters’ names around it so that we could visualize where they’d be seating, who would be making eye contact across the table or kicking each other under the table, etc. We talked about how each character would be feeling at the beginning of the scene, what each of them knows and doesn’t know at this point in the story, what each of them might notice about the others.
Then we gamed out possible bits of dialogue. We decided that someone definitely needs to say, “This is not dinner table conversation,” and someone else definitely needs to say, “Oh but I think it is.” We decided that the host will neglect to decant the wine, and the guest who brought the wine will fixate on this. And we decided that a certain character is going to have a little too much to drink…
Both of these sessions with Anna — fleshing out the remaining plot outline and breaking the dinner scene — were incredibly helpful. NOW I feel ready to write forward.
This week in reading
I’m halfway through Hilary Leichter’s Terrace Story and it is fantastic. I loved her novel Temporary and I’ve been looking forward to her next since she sold it. Her writing is so inventive and at the same time carries some heavy emotional truths. It’s hard to pull off! I truly believe she’s one of our greats.
I’m also making my way through The Best American Poetry 2023. I was lucky to take poetry seminars with both the series editor David Lehman and this year’s guest editor Elaine Equi when I was in college and they were important early influences on my writing, so this year’s anthology is extra special for me.
Til next week, friends!