Showing My Roots

September 7, 2006

Issue #3 of A Novel in One Semester
by Mary Kay Zuravleff, copyright 2006

Almost everyone in novel class is 4K words farther along than he or she was last week. Join now, and you can make up the words. You’re expected to have 8K words of a novel written by Wednesday, September 13, 2006, at 4 pm. That’s a firm deadline.

So far, I’ve credited Chris Baty and his book No Plot? No Problem! everywhere but in this newsletter. He claimed November as National Novel Writing Month and enjoys an online following at NaNoWriMo.org. If you’re inspired by us but are presently busy, his ship launches November 1.

We’re also reading E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and five short novels: Jane Smiley’s Ordinary Love and Good Will, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster.

The Longest Gin & Tonic Recipe

In an effort to write my next 4K words, I’ve typed a lengthy gin and tonic recipe into my novel. How does this reveal what Forster calls the “secret lives” of my characters? Does this tall, refreshing drink advance the plot? I can’t say, but the recipe took up 300 words of slack. Turns out, it’s challenging to make great insights into characters who are still lumps of clay. And to propel the characters through a door if you don’t know what’s on the other side. Forster’s insights apply to finished works; meanwhile, we’re paralyzed by circular logic—characters reveal plot and plot reveals character, when we haven’t established either.

Time to take a flying leap of faith. I must write many words before next week. A chilled drink and the information that we are teeming with living microbes seem germane to my characters’ lives, and so I incorporate these small strands any way I can. If the conspiracy theory of novel-writing holds, there is a giant web of connections that I will eventually expose or discover or build.

Every time I glimpse a connection, I go back and shore up the web, even if I just write a few words in brackets to prompt me later. You know how you tell a joke when you only remember the punch line? A guy walks into a bar and—oh, I forgot, he’s a fireman—he walks into the bar—oh, the bar is on top of the Empire State Building—anyway, he orders a drink—did I mention he’s really short? he is—etc. In this way, I’m moving forward but I’m also clarifying my earlier hunches. And I’ll always be able to find that gin and tonic recipe.

Drop us a line if you need encouragement; otherwise, keep the faith.