Enjoy today's Guest-Post from Indie Author Uvi Poznansky about the creative process of writing a novel: Should it flow in a linear or cyclical way, at what point do you need to figure out the end, and how to pace through the chapters.
During the year of writing of my recent novel, Apart From Love, I discovered several ways of advancing the story. Here are some of them; perhaps you will find that they would work for you, too.
At first I wrote a short story. It was about a twelve-year-old boy coming face to face, for the first time in his life, with the sad spectacle of death in the family. The title of the story was Only An Empty Dress, which was a metaphor for the outlines of memory, for what is left behind when someone has departed. In his grandma’s closet Ben observes one dress, which has muddy, vertical patterns, just like the new fish in his aquarium. Later that night, he attempts to revive the fish tilting upside down, trying to blow life into it (just like his father, who tried to revive the grandmother.) When the fish finally gives up his ghost, Ben cries himself to sleep in his mom’s bed, which is when the dream finds him:
“Lighter and faster than anything here I come, soaring again through the air as if there is no gravity. From time to time you can see a school of fish flying dreamily overhead, rising to reach the little specks up there at the surface. Something with muddy, vertical marks comes ruffling towards me in the stream of things. At first I cannot tell what it is.
It scrambles over my foot, spreading fine, transparent ripples all around me. And it is at the very last moment—a heartbeat before it flutters away—that I can see it was nothing, only an empty dress.”
I set the story aside, thinking I was done with it. But this character, Ben, came back to me and started chatting, chatting, chatting incessantly in my head. So I asked myself, what if I ‘aged’ him by fifteen years? Where would he be then? Would he still admire his father as a hero—or will he be disillusioned at that point? What secrets would come to light in the life of this family? How would it feel for Ben to come back to his childhood home, and have his memories play tricks on him? What if I introduce a girl, Anita, a redhead who looks as beautiful as his mother used to be—but is extremely different from her in all other respects? And what if this girl were married to his father? What if the father were an author, attempting to capture the thoughts, the voices of Ben and Anita, in order to write his book?
Just asking these questions had an immediate affect on Ben: as if a page has turned, he grew up into his new age—but then, somehow, he forgot to mature... So the process of writing became, for me, simply listening to him, and to Anita, and trying, as fast as I could, to capture their thoughts. They chatted with such intensity! I wish I could record everything they said. After a full day of writing nonstop, just before my eyes closed, I would hear Ben whisper something in my ear, and promise myself I would put it on paper next morning—only to find the phrase gone by the time I woke up.
So, to slow down the chatter I would throw some obstacle in my characters’ way, and let them ponder how to find their way around it. This, I found, was such a fun method of developing the story, and it allowed the plot to twist and turn in unexpected ways.
Here is another fun method of driving the story forward: about halfway through the plot, I left the characters where they were, and turned to write an Epilogue, in which the ‘stage set’ for the last scene is described in detail:
“The four poster bed has been removed, as was the piano. The oval, standalone mirror in the bedroom lies on the floor, in pieces. Glass shards are still strewn all the way back to the other corner. The tape recorder seems to move around the place. Sometimes it can be found under the desk, in the balcony. Other times, it appears next to Beethoven’s bust.”
At this point, I had no idea yet how the mirror would end up being shattered, or how the massive piano would disappear. But now, I had a stage set for the last scenes, and a glimpse of the arc this story was about to take. I went back to my characters, discovering that they started guessing their way, at times stumbling, at times aiming straight, right towards that last scene.
In any task you undertake, you often hear the advice: start at the beginning, continue down the middle, and finish at the end. Writing is no different. Problem is, as you advance diligently down that path, you may find—to your surprise—that you are getting better, more proficient at your craft. Suddenly the opening of this chapter sounds so much catchier than the previous one; and the ending more powerful.
Which requires constant reevaluation and reworking of previous chapters. So in my opinion, the process of writing is Cyclical. By the time I completed the last chapter of Apart From Love, I knew I had to restructure the first chapter, in which Ben is about to return—reluctantly—to his childhood home, and to a contentious relationship with his father:
“About a year ago I sifted through the contents of my suitcase, and was just about to discard a letter, which my father had written to me some time ago. Almost by accident my eye caught the line, I have no one to blame for all this but myself, which I had never noticed before, because it was written in an odd way, as if it were a secret code, almost: upside down, in the bottom margin of the page, with barely a space to allow any breathing.
The words left some impression in my memory. I almost wished he were next to me, so I could not only listen to him, but also record his voice saying that.
I imagined him back home, leaning over his desk, scrawling each letter with the finest of his pens with great care, as if focusing through a thick magnifying glass. The writing was truly minute, as if he had hated giving away even the slightest hint to a riddle I should have been able to solve on my own. I detested him for that. And so, thinking him unable to open his heart to me, I could never bring myself to write back. In hindsight, that may have been a mistake.
Even so, I am only too happy to agree with him: the blame for what happened in our family is his. Entirely his. If not for his actions ten years ago, I would never have run away to Firenze, to Rome, to Tel Aviv. And if not for his actions a couple of weeks ago, this frantic call for me to come back and see him would never have been made.
And so I find myself standing here, on the threshold of where I grew up, feeling utterly awkward. I knock, and a stranger opens the door. The first thing that comes to mind: what is she doing here? The second thing: she is young, much too young for him. The third: her hair. Red.”
- Uvi Poznansky -
About the Author
She earned her B. A. in Architecture and Town Planning from the Technion in Haifa, Israel. During her studies and in the years immediately following her graduation, she practiced with an innovative Architectural firm, taking a major part in the large-scale project, 'Home for the Soldier'; a controversial design that sparked fierce public debate.
During the years she spent in advancing her career--first as an architect, and later as a software engineer, software team leader, software manager and a software consultant (with an emphasis on user interface for medical instruments devices)--she wrote and painted constantly, and exhibited in Israel and California. In addition, she taught art appreciation classes. Her versatile body of work can be seen online on her website. It includes bronze and ceramic sculptures, oil and watercolor paintings, charcoal, pen and pencil drawings, and mixed media.
Uvi has published two children books, Jess and Wiggle and Now I Am Paper. For each one of these books, she has created an animation video.
Apart From Love is her debut novel. [see Links below]
Please, leave some comments or questions for the Author at the end of this post!
Links to the Author
Link to Uvi Poznansky's Website
Link to Uvi Poznansky's Author Blog
Link to Uvi Poznansky's Debut Novel: Apart from Love
Connect with Uvi Poznansky on Twitter: @UviPoznansky