A couple of weeks ago I began writing a new book. In some ways, it’s a foolish endeavor. I have written unfinished books, unsold finished books, books that will never see the light of day, books written under assumed names for good reason, and at least one book my editor doesn’t much care for though she is willing to plow through it because, well, she’s a professional and she’s my editor. If you write almost every day for almost half a century as I have done, you’re going to have a lot of pages. Most of them aren’t worth keeping, but I do so anyway.
The new project doesn’t have legs yet. I was told the prologue sounds more like a spoken monologue, and the ensuing ten-or-so pages should be in the first person, rather than omniscient. I have issues with writing first-person. I wrote a first-person novel once years ago, and then rewrote it in omniscient. At the time, I suppose I felt foolish having a character that had all my bad traits but was a hero nevertheless. I have never, ever, felt like a hero. So I changed the book and to this day think this was a wise choice.
Writing in the first person is odd. It’s almost as if I am trying to create a new and improved me—smarter, better looking, more charming and a lot braver. It never works. It doesn’t read quite right to have a character pretend on paper to have had experiences I haven’t had. On the other hand, I can invent a third-person being with enough remove from me that his or her experiences will not ring false.
Regardless, starting a new book is always a helter-skelter adventure. I’ve always envied writers who can plot out a novel from first to last page; there must be a feeling of safety when you know where the road will lead. I suspect, however, that they can’t be having as much fun as I do.
I start a new book with the vaguest of plots—I plan to have this and that happen to him or her—but I also know things and events will occur that have not yet crossed my mind. I did not, for example, think the hero of a novella I wrote years ago would fall naked, save for rubber boots, into the polar bears’ enclosure at the National Zoo. The story developed and it seemed like an excellent idea (it was not, as it turned out) and it made me giggle until the bear caught him. Then it got messy and I had to change the plot line.
My project today has been to change a half-dozen pages from third- to first-person. I’m not sure I’ve done a good job of it, but it’s worth the effort. I’ll know in a few weeks if the project is worth pursuing; it always takes me about a hundred pages to honestly appraise what I’ve done and, no matter what, it won’t be wasted time. Writing never is.