Writing the Second Novel04:04
I’m torn. Having recently completed (for now?!) my first novel, I’m scrounging around for another story. I have ideas, lots of them. One is about a guy who gets kidnapped in the Amazon. I’d also like to write a heist story. Or maybe something political and environmental—like about an evil mining or petroleum company that gets their comeuppance after stepping on the little guys for too long. Perhaps another family story—like my last one—only this time instead of making about fathers and sons, it’ll be about a pair of brothers who come together after a lifetime of being at loggerheads.
I got it! The story will be about a guy who tries to free his brother, who works for an oil company, from kidnappers who are holding him to get the company to stop drilling in the rainforest, only the whole thing is a ruse to swindle a fortune in ransom money from the aforementioned multi-national by the brothers, who are in on it together with the kidnappers?
Right…so maybe I need to think about it more. But for how long? And when do I know that I’m ready? That my idea is good enough to begin writing?
For my last manuscript, I started with the following notion: A guy goes back to his hometown after a long time away and finds trouble upon his return. I didn’t have a clue, frankly, about what I needed to do to get the story to the finish line. I knew only that I wanted to write a fictional account based loosely on the town where I grew up. I had no plot and one undefined character. But I was sure this was what I wanted to write so I sat down and started writing.
The result: a mess of a first draft. I managed to come up with a plot and a cast of characters, but both were riddled with holes. I wrote a second draft and didn’t really improve the plot, only the writing. Upon confirmation of this from just about everyone who read it, I put the manuscript away for almost a year. I didn’t start it again until I had a meticulous outline that addressed the myriad flaws in the work.
This time I think I’m going to have a better sense of the story, the characters, the setting, the pacing, etc. before I begin. I’m hoping that I won’t have to write as many drafts this time (though I will, if necessary). I feel like I’m better prepared to execute my next manuscript—if I only had a more concrete idea of what it would be about. Which tempts me to proceed as I did last time, by picking an idea based on a single sentence and plowing forward to let the story find itself? It worked for me once (I hope), but I wonder if the process needs to be so arduous. I’m thinking maybe I should settle on my idea, research it like crazy, let it change and evolve in my mind and then write a hugely detailed outline before I even think about putting fingers to keyboard.
Honestly, I’m not sure. I need your help.
The question(s): What’s your process for getting from idea to execution? Do you let the story tell itself, plan every detail before you begin, or somewhere in between?