Why most novels resemble Frankenstein’s monster

This is the penultimate post in the blog-as-I-write-a-novel series I started back in January. I’ve written twenty posts on the subject so far, and I’m nearly at the end of the first draft. Output’s dipped over the past few weeks (I’d make excuses but they’d all be feeble). However, I’m ramping up again now for the final push.

When I do reach the end, I plan to stop blogging about this particular project, for a while a least. That won’t mean I’m done. Far from it. It’ll just mean the hard work of rewriting is about to begin. To keep properly focused on that critical stage, I’ve decided to maintain radio silence.

As I approach the end, I’m reminded of a quote I read years ago and haven’t been able to find since. If you know where it comes from, do tell me. It goes something like this: ‘You set out with the intention of writing the best novel ever written, and end up desperate just to finish the damn thing.’

In my experience, that’s not so far from the truth. As with most artistic endeavours, the best part is just before you begin, when anything seems possible. The novel stands tall in your mind’s eye in all its imagined splendour, as perfectly proportioned as Leonardo daVinci’s Vitruvian man. After agonising months spent trying to turn that fantasy into reality, the first draft resembles Frankenstein’s monster. That’s not all bad. It’s got arms and legs. It walks and talks (well, grunts). It’s alive, goddammit. It just doesn’t look very pretty.

That’s why the rewriting is the hardest part, and why most writers never show us their first drafts. There are prodigies out there, I suppose, from whom flawless narrative emerges fully formed, like a Persian rug from the loom. The rest of us have to face the monsters we’ve created and try to tame them into submission.

I should make it clear that actually I love the rewriting process. The story’s in place. I’ve got a beginning, a middle and an end … possibly even in the right order. And here’s the best part: I get to learn all over again that words are made of clay. Once you’ve thrown your story roughly down on the slab, you can start to mould it into something resembling that old Vitruvian man. You can take all those parts you so crudely stitched together and smooth out the seams. The end result won’t be without scars (is there anything worthwhile in life that is?) but if you’re lucky your creation will do more than just lurch about the lab. It’ll open its arms and sing.

All that’s still some way off. I’ve got maybe six more chapters to write before I can call the first draft of The Dragons of Bloodrock finished. The reason it sounds like I’m signing off now is that I want to get that part out of the way. Those of you who have patiently tracked my progress here don’t want all this introspective nonsense, do you? You want hints and spoilers and, just maybe, an extract or two. If you’re lucky, in a month or so, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Until then, I’ll be continuing to write. And blog, of course. Just because Bloodrock is moving into the next phase doesn’t mean I don’t have other projects on the go. There’s one in particular I hope to be reporting on in the near future, fingers crossed. I also have another 43 issues of Cinefex to review before I hit my self-appointed target of 50. So I’m afraid you don’t get rid of me that easily.

Remembering that quote I used earlier reminded me in turn of something the late, great Douglas Adams said about the way he wrote. The process, he remarked, was mostly about avoiding deadlines, and the best way to do that was to take a bath. I’m right with you, Douglas. In fact, I must go and turn the water off before the tub overflows. Now where did I put that rubber duck?

Comments

  1. Don Shay says:

    Hi Graham —

    Not sure how you’ve managed to get this close to completing a first draft with all of the diversionary blogging you do, not to mention the book proposals and sample chapters you’ve written for future projects along the way. And, who knows, you may actually have a life that sometimes beckons.

    All writers have their processes, and I’ve enjoyed eavesdropping on yours via your blogs. I’m probably the world’s most reluctant writer. I quiver in fear at the sight of a blank page or computer screen, and I generally dread producing that first draft — it’s just torture. But I love the rewriting and editing process — and the final polish. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that didn’t go through a half-dozen drafts. I feel the same about my few ventures into amateur filmmaking. Editing was always my favorite part.

    Your horse is nearing the barn. Just hold on tight, and let it carry you on in.

    Don

    • The key to this particular manuscript has been early morning starts. I’m feeing fairly ragged now though. I don’t think you’re alone in being reluctant, Don – the Douglas Adams ‘take a bath’ approach is more common that we might think, I suspect! Like you, I enjoy the rewriting most of all: at last you can take off the filthy gear you’ve been wearing at the coal face and starting polishing what you’ve dug up. And hope it’s not fool’s gold, of course.

  2. Just wait till you try writing a novel based on your own screenplay. Sounds deceptively by-the-book, doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s a pitfall is what it is. One that’ll teach ya a lesson you’ll never forget. Crichton was insane for doing that every time he wrote a book. Just makes it harder by creating an artificial structure you are forced to adhere to chapter by chapter. And it will F’ing drive you insane; I kid you not.

    • I feel your pain, James. I’ve attempted the exercise in reverse, with screenplay adaptations of two of my novels. Both remain works-in-progress (which means, of course, completely stalled).

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