It may surprise some of you to learn that of my ten published books, two are fiction. In fact, my first two published books were novels three and four in the four-volume Ann of the Prairie series, now out of print. The books actually sold well and we had a nice endorsement for the series from Janette Oke who said: “Heartwarming and heart-rending…a reminder of what life was really like.”
I was such a novice—this was twenty years ago—but I do remember at the time thinking Wow, I can do this! I can write a novel! I remember that it was important to me to make that mental note because I instinctively knew that in the future, self-doubts might crop up—as they surely did.
My next eight books were all non-fiction, but the fiction bug, along with the realization wow, I can do this! has never left me. Every so often I steel myself on the edge of the deep end of the pool and consider making the jump. Now is such a time. Partly the decision is based on the lack of movement with some non-fiction proposals I’ve prepared. (I’m astonished no publisher is begging to publish these terrific books 🙂 , but such is the case). Naturally, I’m assuming the minute I get totally absorbed in a novel, I’ll have all kinds of renewed interest in my non-fiction. Such is the writer’s life.
As I’ve been thinking about the historical novel I want to write, I’ve been a bit stuck in that I only know the ending so far. That’s unusual for me, but I’m game to try writing to an ending I already have in mind. The problem is finding out what happens on the first 250 pages of the book. I’ve tried to figure it out, but to no avail. But since I know the era and the major historical event that plays a huge part in the plot, last night I decided to begin my research even without a plot. And as I read, I realized that just allowing myself to be transported to the time and place of the story may be enough to eventually reveal the story I want to tell. It was thrilling, in a way. As I was reading, I could almost imagine my three (so far) characters in the setting. Surely that’s a good start. I know those three storyless characters are quite anxious. I can see them standing in the streets of the city in question, arms crossed, looking to me to give them their script. Sorry guys! I’m doing my best!
I’m anxious now to do some more reading and hope that the story will be hidden in the pages of the non-fiction books I’m reading. This rings true with one of my favorite Stephen King quotes about writing:
Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground. . . . Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. Sometimes the fossil you uncover is small; a seashell. Sometimes it’s enormous, a Tyrannosaurus Rex with all those gigantic ribs and grinning teeth. Either way, short story or thousand-page whopper of a novel, the techniques of excavation remain basically the same.
No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm-pick, perhaps even a toothbrush. Plot is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer. you can liberate a fossil from hard ground with a jackhammer, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is mechanical, anticreative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artifical and labored.
So right now, I’m digging for my story amid the ruins of history.
Have some of you found your story during or after your research, and not before?