Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Creating a Novel

Or, What I Ought To Be Doing

By Laura Crum

Creating a novel is what I ought to be doing—not writing this post. I’ve decided that “books not blogs” needs to become my mantra. I have enjoyed this whole blog thing so much that I am procrastinating way too much on getting my 11th mystery written. Instead I put a few comments on someone’s blog, or go check out what mugwump has written lately. Blogging is fun. I like it that it’s a form of dialogue. Its addictive.

So, what about my next mystery? Aren’t mysteries fun to write, too, you ask. Or I am imagining that you ask. The answer is that I thought mysteries were wonderfully fun to write for many years. I delighted in painting word pictures, in telling stories, in giving my view of the world through my books. Being an author is in some ways very narcissistic (whether we’re talking blogs or books). This is how I see it, this is my take on it, this is my voice singing my song. It can be pretty; in a great writer (not me), it can be thrilling. But it is a certainly a form of ego.

Nothing wrong with that, really. We all have egos; we all like to sing our songs. But after writing ten books, I am finding it harder to get engaged by this form of self expression. I tend to like the blogging because people answer back, people argue, you bounce your thoughts off the wide cyberworld. Its interesting. So now I have to start reminding myself of all the things I’ve loved so much about creating novels over the years; I need to talk myself into telling one more story, singing another little song.

For me, the most interesting part of creating a novel is writing about things I truly love. Writing about the horses, the landscape, the seasons and weather, the plants and animals, Gail’s life changes, her family…this stuff engages me. The only problem? These are supposed to be mysteries. Somebody has to die.

Yep, I confess, I am bored with killing people. I begin each novel (including #11) knowing who gets killed and why and by whom, and then I let the plot evolve as I write. Frequently I find I need to kill someone else midway through the book or everything starts to drag (to paraphrase Dashiell Hammit, when the plot bogs down, I “bring in a man with a gun”). I find myself reluctant to describe all these murders; this is nothing that I feel drawn to, for heaven’s sake. I begin wondering how I ever got into the mystery business. It doesn’t help that I realize that many/most successful mystery authors do a very good job of keeping the reader gripped with their scary/horrible descriptions of the murder scene. Obviously, I am falling down at my job. I keep wanting to write about horses…and not about anything bad happening to them, either. Needles to say, this is a drawback in a mystery writer.

Then, as the book comes to a close, I have to invent a suitably exciting climactic scene, which in my case usually involves a “thrilling” horseback chase, something I’ve become known for. Hopefully these are thrilling to read. They used to be pretty fun to write. But at this point I almost feel like quoting large sections from previous books…how many ways can I describe galloping along being chased or chasing someone? I try every time to find freshness, to use some new approach. I bring to mind my most exciting horseback moments. Every wreck I ever had or saw is fodder for my poor protagonist’s adventures. By basing the horse scenes on things that have really happened, I try to keep them believable.

In each of my books I endeavor to use a different plot line than any I’ve used before. I try to bring some new changes into my protagonist’s life. I try to write about some aspect of the horse biz that I haven’t addressed. I try to create a different central crime. I really strive to stay engaged with what I’m writing. Sometimes this doesn’t work in my favor. Some readers would rather I wrote a “new version” of some of my past books that were favorites, rather than moving in a truly new direction (Slickrock is often mentioned in this context; “couldn’t I just do another one like that?”). But I keep changing what I’m doing (at least slightly) from book to book, so that I don’t become so bored with the character that I can’t write about her any more. The perennial struggle of a series author.

Anyway, I’m putting this out there in the hopes that you all, authors, readers, and bloggers, will give feedback on your own writing/reading issues. What do you like to read? What don’t you like? What are your writing/creating struggles? Maybe I can draw some inspiration from your thoughts and get motivated to finish this book. I hope so. The deadline will be here in a few months. I’ve never missed a deadline yet. If this becomes the first time, I’m gonna blame it on the blogs. (Do you think my editor will buy this excuse?)

Happy reading and writing!
Laura Crum


Linda said...

I guess this blog is about equestrian fiction, but I have two friends who write non-fiction where horses figure in, sometimes predominantly--Claire Davis and Kimberly Verhines. Have you ever considered writing a non-fiction piece? I agree, blogging can be a drain--I started in order to get help gentling a Mustang and then helping others. Its been good for that--but if it ever replaces actually going to the barn and gentling my Mustang--it's gone. Good luck--and my answer to what I like to read is basically--non-ficton or fiction that reads like non-fiction. I like to read about human struggles. Hope you make that deadline!!

Linda said...

Actually, I should answer that a little more specifically--I like reading about love, not necessarily romantic--love between family members--friends--loving yourself--forgiving yourself---guilt--shame--fears that mirror our real fears---journeys of discovery and growth--a character that starts out weak and becomes strong.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the comments. I do try to work lots of real life horse stuff into my novels, also my thoughts on love...of all kinds. However, I know some folks just prefer non-fiction. I started writing mysteries because I loved reading them, particularly Dick Francis. When I tried to branch out into non-fiction, my agent was unable to sell the book. It seems that mysteries are what I'm known for, and mysteries are what I can sell. So I just try to work the "non-fiction" stuff that interests me into the mysteries.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and ezra-pandora, if you're out there, thanks for the nice comment about Chasing Cans on my last post. I just saw it this morning. I didn't know the publisher put an add for the book in Horse Illustrated. Thanks for telling me.

Leslie said...

The fact that you have ten completed and published novels is a milestone in itself, in my opinion. I can see how coming up with the variations would cause concern. You want to keep things fresh for yourself writing, and your readers. As you probably know, there are many prolific writers who don't EVEN try that hard!

Now that you brought it up, maybe that's why I've shied away from mysteries in my reading life. I've never been fond of reading about senseless death and killing, but if there is a justifiable end, I can stick with it. I suppose it's part of our current culture. All we are given for tv entertainment, if you choose to watch any tv, are violent crimes and senseless murders, but the most popular shows are the crime shows. I don't watch those kinds of shows, but many folks do.

You know what "they" say in writing circles, you must write what you feel is inside, or it's probably not going to come across as authentic. Maybe you are in need of a slightly different direction for Gail to go at this point. Maybe if she has to help figure out.....Kidnapping? Stolen Horses? Doping of champion horses? Mountain rescue? Mustangs? I haven't read all your books, so I may have hit on something you've already touched upon in your work.

Good luck and it is a tough job! Sometimes people don't realize just how hard it can be to sit down and start filling up that empty white space on your computer screen or the blank sheet of paper!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice note, Leslie. I managed to write a few more pages today. I've put my new little palomino trail horse, Sunny, into this book, and I'm having fun writing about him.

Shanster said...

Oh hey! I'm new to this blog - but enjoy the good writing and I enjoy horses so I keep coming back! grin I also devoured all Dick Francis books - I have to confess I haven't read one of your mysteries yet but plan to get to the library and begin! When it comes to horses, I really enjoy reading about the relationships and discoveries people make about themselves and their horses - the bond. Like Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale - I read that over and over cuz I loved Anthasor the big white stallion and the relationship he had with the main character. I start to tune out a little when it gets too technical... I like some technical cuz it keeps it "real" but too much and my little bird like attention span wanders off to the next shiny thing... and how Mugwump writes about Sonita...Love that sort of writing...

Looking forward to reading one of your books! Nice blog! Thanks!

tierra said...

I guess you already answered my question that I was going to ask... could you write a novel (still fiction) that is not a mystery? But I guess it's all in the marketing and selling of said novel. Total bummer, though, because it might be a refreshing break. Maybe you could tempt yourself with that, however--make this deadline, and then you can indulge yourself in a non-mystery story just for the fun of it. Are there some other stories milling about in your head that you have pondered writing that aren't part of your series?

I guess all (or most) stories contain some elements of mystery--perhaps not a who done it, but still questions are asked and eventually answered, which is usually what keeps us reading (unless it's about pure language and word usage, but those stories usually aren't mainstream).

I've been writing short stories lately and it's awfully entertaining. Of course I enjoy writing stories about horses the most. It's nice to write about something you know a little something about and feel like you can offer some insight on.

Anyway--good luck and I am sure you'll make the deadline. Just reward yourself with something for meeting it.

One last thought--sometimes work sucks. I'm an attorney, and I can assure you that my job often sucks. I just grit my teeth and do the unplesant stuff that I don't want to do and remember I'm getting paid to do it (which in turn pays to support my horses and hobbies). While writing books may sound like a total dream job to me, it is still a job. There are times, I'm sure, that it feels like one. No getting around that.

Hopefully being inspired by Sunny will help get you through it. Best of luck!

tierra said...

P.S. Now get off the internet and start writing!!! Ha ha!! :)

Anonymous said...

tierra--You are so right. The bottom line is, get off the internet and write a few more pages!
Shanster--thanks--I love mugwump's Sonita stories, too.

KD said...

Laura, I've read four of your novels so far so I still have plenty of reading to do. (I won't finish the rest before your deadline comes around.) I have enjoyed the fact that each novel goes in a slightly different direction and that you do manage to give us an exciting ending each time. Keep up the good work!

mugwump said...

Laura- I can' say too much because I have your next review coming up. BUT part of the fun I have with your books is watching Gail mature and grow. Watching her wade through the relationship ocean, struggle with her job, keeping finding a reason for just one more horse.....It's all good. And I can read your descriptions about your garden, your dinner menu and the beverage selection all day. It makes me want to put my feet up on the porch.
I just hope you continue to struggle on. I want to see how she solves those mysteries when she's 80. Miss Marple on horseback!

Joy said...

right now we're somewhat broke (hubby is in construction, times is tough babe!) and I haven't been able to get one of your books yet. I am seriously looking forward to reading your first and gobbling up all the rest, believe me.

I love mystery. I love the good ones, where you cannot tell who did it. I love old school, like Agathat Christie. My dad and I have read them all, several times. I love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I also love Tony Hillerman. Mystery is an amazing genre. (babblng, sorry) And I adore Stephen King, he is a wordsmith.

I guess I just wanted to tell you that to me, it's awe inspiring that you are a published author. I've always wanted to write, but I don't have that gift. I love to read and I do that a lot.

So I guess maybe you're just stretching your "legs". Maybe you need to experience a different medium right now. Obviously you are successful and good at what you do. I have faith that you will get back into your novel and get it done. I guess deadlines are stressful, and I'm sorry that's part of your deal.

Sorry for blabbing, I'm done now!

Joy said...

where'd that "t" come in on Agatha's name??? whoops.

Anonymous said...

Laura, What if it was a horse that was murdered? Maybe for the insurance money (as has happened in real life...)? The "chase" could involve Gail leading the next victim to safety. And Gail's horses could be in danger of being murdered as blackmail?
Writing's a tough job. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

KD, Joy, and mugwump, you guys are making it seem worthwhile to keep working on #11. And still learning--its a great suggestion. I'm hampered by the fact that I have a hard time putting Gail's horses in danger, even on the page. I have done the "horses murdered for the insurance money" plot though. I won't tell you in which book--it might spoil the story if you ever read it. Many of my plots are taken from stuff that's happened in real life. Life is inevitably full of stuff that is too unbelievable to even put in a work of fiction. I find plenty of material in the local horse world, believe me.

mugwump said...

joy-we all know what an asshat is. Now we just need to define agat-hat.

Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joy said...

If you figure it mugwump, let me know, cause I have no idea!

Jami Davenport said...

Laura, I hate doing the first draft. Once that's done, I love going back and editing and layering in the character's personalities and the emotions.

I love writing the first three chapters. In fact, I'm the queen of the first three chapters. Now if I could only write the 2nd half of a book as well as the first half. Unfortunately, I get impatient to finish it then I don't do nearly as good of a job.

Like you, I'm procrastinating. I'm almost done with my current WIP, yet here I am, commenting on posts, checking My Space, etc.

The Gift Horse took me FOREVER to finish for some reason. It has a mystery in it, too, though it's primarily romance.

BobbieNoSocks said...

I'm glad you're blogging. Just self published my first novel... You're helping me ... that's for sure.