How Writing A Novella Helped Me Write A Better Novel

images 3Recently I enrolled in James Patterson’s MasterClass on writing. Tongue in cheek, I’ve never read any of James Patterson’s novels, though I am a big fan of his Alex Cross movies. But I believe in learning from those who’ve gone before and succeeded, so whether I’ve read his books or not, the man is the epitome of a successful author.

Besides, I’ve a short attention span and each of his twenty-two classes is only  8-12 minutes long.

What does James Patterson have to do with making me a better writer? via ShawnSpjut clicktotweet

A lot actually, especially when it has to do with outlining a novel.

Until now, I was never much of an out-liner, preferring to write by the seat of my pants. But while writing my historical novel, Mark of Shamash, I found myself having to write a short outline for each of the chapters as a way to help keep track of my scenes and plot lines.

One of the exercises presented for the class on Outlining, was to do one for the story idea we were to have come up with for the second class, Where Ideas Come From. Since I had already had an idea for writing a novella about two of the characters in The Remnant series, I decided to use that as the basis for my class project instead.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of outlines, I see Roman Numerals, letters, tabs, indentations and vague notations of what I want.

Very organized, but lacking in creativity.

Not so with Mr. Patterson’s idea of what an outline should look like. Instead of numbers or Roman Numerals, he begins every novel or story by writing out a brief description of each scene. Next he prints it out (in triple space), reads over what he’s written – adding information, details, making notes, etc.. He does this multiple times until he feels like he has everything he needs to write the story. In this way he saves time and frustration, mainly because he’s already worked through everything in the outline (though he admits every novel has chapters and scenes that don’t emerge until after he starts writing the actual book).

Now a pantser like myself might think this takes away from the whole creative processes. To my surprise I discovered just the opposite. Instead of having to deal with the frustration of needing to re-write scenes because they didn’t work, or spend countless hours in frustration because I was losing the beat or couldn’t see how to move the story, I used my outline to work all that out.

But even cooler than no longer having to suppress the urge to pull my hair out, I was being to get into my characters hearts and heads in a ways I’d not been able to in the past. Suddenly I was exploring their back-stories, motivations, internal conflicts and relationships with the other characters on a visceral level I’d not known possible.

Instead of writing their story from a distance, I felt myself sinking down inside their personalities until it felt like I was right there, seeing and experiencing everything they saw and experienced. I became their friend. Their confidante. Their confessor and their greatest fan (or enemy). I was the angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other. I became the fly on the wall and the familiar living just beneath the skin. I fell in love with those they loved and hated those they hated. When they were afraid, my gut clenched. When they got excited or nervous, I felt butterflies in my stomach.

No longer was I writing a story about strangers. This story was about individuals I knew as intimately as I knew myself – maybe even more so. I don’t need to tell you how profound this approach to novel-writing was or the fact that I can’t imagine writing a novel any other way.

So what does this mean for the first draft of The Exodus, the second book in The Remnant series which is currently waiting for me to read through the first draft?

Excitement. Trepidation. Excitement. Trepidation.

And oh yeah, hopefully what I need to make the characters and their story come as alive for you as they are for me. Granted, it’ll mean taking the extra time to go back and re-write some of the scenes and adjust the plot, but in the end I believe The Exodus will be the kind of story that keeps you turning the pages over and over again.

Because let’s face it, Isn’t turning pages what writing and reading a novel is all about? vis @ShawnSpjut clicktotweet


PS. It also produced my first novella for The Remnant series, which I hope to have ready to publish next spring as well.

Thanks for sharing the journey.
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