Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And little maids all in a row.
I’ve been working so hard to plant and encourage my garden this year—while finishing a novella and starting a new Regency, plus editing and formatting my next indie book—that I could scarcely escape the close analogy between growing a garden and writing a book. And when searching for a blog title, the old nursery rhyme popped into my mind.
Are we all contrary Marys? It’s certainly possible. Those who make a living wage with their writing have certainly turned their backs on the traditional nine to five. And those who hold down a job and still find time to write have to be blessed with a stubbornly contrary gene that keeps them going, no matter what.
Silver bells, cockle shells, and little maids all in a row? Surely a symbol of the creative imagination it takes to do what we do.
So . . . how does your novel grow?
If it’s like mine, the answer is, painfully. With great time, effort, and determination.
Details? you ask. Well, now, let’s see . . .
Good soil - start with a solid foundation. For a garden, it’s good soil. For a novel, I suggest the foundation is:
1. Read, read, read, read, read! I have judged c. 400 RWA chapter contest in the last fifteen years, and all too often I can tell the entrant set out to write a romance without ever having read one. (Or if he/she did, they weren’t paying attention!) Or perhaps you didn’t quite get the concepts of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict when you read a “How-to” book about them. Hopefully, reading books by the most successful romance authors will bring the points home. Certainly, they should give you a feeling for the style.
2. Research. Whether you’re writing Contemporary or Historical, you need to know what you’re talking about. Police procedure, raising horses, military service, Medieval times, Regency, Victorian/Edwardian - know the clothing, the proper terminology. Know the history/background of your chosen subject. Don’t try to “wing it.” Too many will know if you get it wrong.
The Seed. Once you have that germ of an idea, you need to plant it in that solid foundation of knowing what is expected in your chosen sub-genre and let it sprout from the inspiration of your fertile mind, supported by all that research you did.
Water. A seed won’t sprout in dry soil any more than a novel can grow without Goal, Motivation, Conflict. You have to water that seed with a good flow of all the necessary ingredients. Water it with two Good Main Characters, interesting characters—likable characters, the kind readers want to root for. (Of course for a villain, you need to make him/her someone the reader loves to hate.) Those characters need physical descriptions, information about their personalities and enough background so we can understand why they do what they do. The main characters need to reveal their thoughts through introspection, not just through dialogue. But when your characters do speak out loud, be sure they have something to say! Clever dialogue adds color, but it must always move the story forward; i.e., no dialogue just for sake of being cute and no dialogue thrown in just because you’ve written five pages of solid narration and ask yourself, “What do I do now?”
Fertilize. Your plants—pardon me, your story—will remain mediocre unless you add fertilizer (color) in the form of a well-delineated setting, well-drawn secondary characters (with descriptions), mixed with narration and dialogue that keeps the plot on track. Never get so wound up in your characters that you forget your plot or so wound up in plot that you fail to develop your characters. Make them grow, if you’ll pardon me hammering home the analogy.
Weed. Every chapter or two, go back and take a good look at what you wrote. Weed out the typos, fill in the missing words, and—far more important—spot the places where you used twenty words when ten would have been more clear, more to the point. Where did you stray from your Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts? Where did you fall into kaffeeklatch nonentities, straying from the plot and your characters’ purpose in this story?
Am I done yet?
As any gardener knows, you’re far from done. Gardening is demanding and never-ending.
The same is true of writing. Creativity is insatiable, requiring constant tending. You have to keep Watering and Fertilizing and Weeding. In a longer book you might want to add a sub-plot, perhaps a second romance or layer on another bit of conflict for the hero and heroine. Or perhaps you skimped on the fertilizer and find yourself with little more than an outline the first time around. Those pesky plants just won’t grow, hovering just above the soil like little stick figures. For those authors, I suggest mining your creativity for some super fertilizer. Expand each paragraph with more color, better descriptions, more clear motives, more internal joy or anguish, more sparkling dialogue.
Hopefully, by now you’ve found one of those new fertilizers that also keeps weeds at bay. Or maybe you’ve just become more skilled at spotting weeds and getting rid of them as you go along. For the great moment—the end of the growing season—is at hand. You’ve written, “The End.” But if you’re wise, you’ll ask yourself:
Am I done yet?
Final Weeding & Edging. Go back to the beginning and read the whole blasted book line by line. Yes, I know you’re sick of it, but this final editing is all important. If you do it right, you will be amazed at the things you missed during those chapter edits. Everything from improper punctuation to poor transitions, from failure to properly introduce new characters to lack of continuity. In my case, I always end up making a number of insertions, clarifying points, adding more color, more emotion, etc. Others might find they have overwritten and must make numerous deletions rather than insertions.
Am I done yet?
If you made only a few additions or deletions, you might be able to “get by.” You might take a chance on assuming your precious baby is ready for submission. But, frankly, most published authors consider three or four edits the norm. (Chapter by chapter edits, then two or three times through the whole manuscript.) Never fall into the trap of thinking everything you write is perfect the first time. If you do, those pesky weeds will overwhelm your garden every time.
Picking Your Flowers and/or Vegies. Your garden has come to fruition. By George, you’ve done it! You have a colorful array of zinnias, marigolds, dahlias, morning glories, and whatever other glorious seeds you planted. Or maybe you’re chowing down on tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, and melons. Whether you chose flowers or vegies, you can finally pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
But unlike a garden that droops and fades each fall, your precious baby is just coming into full bloom, taking its first precarious steps out into the world. Will it catch an editor’s eye? An agent’s? Or will it faded into obscurity?
Dormancy. Gardens and novels are endless battles with the forces ranged against us, from a struggle with our own laziness to dealing with the demands of others. Never give up. Whether polishing an old project or starting a new one, respect that tiny seed of an idea, nurture it. Water with creative juices, fertilize with new imagination, and attack those weeds with a vengeance. Like those dead-looking perennials who rise to life each spring, an author also experiences a renaissance with each new book, returning to the battle bigger and more hardy than the year (novel) before.
How does your novel grow?
Plant. Water. Fertilize. Weed.
Repeat Steps 2, 3 & 4 until manuscript is complete.
Then do it all again.
The Author’s Motto: Determination, Perseverance, Endurance!
~ * ~
Blair's Free Book Schedule on Amazon Kindle
Airborne - The Hanover Restoration Tuesday, May 7
Death by Marriage Tuesday, May 14
Florida Knight Tuesday, May 21
Limbo Man Tuesday, May 28
Orange Blossoms & Mayhem Tuesday, June 4
For covers and blurbs of the books above, click here.
For covers and blurbs of the books above, click here.
Thanks for stopping by.
Grace, who writes as Blair Bancroft
Click here for a list of Grace's books as Blair Bancroft