Today I welcome guest Alex Laybourne a prolific horror novelist (four novels published). Alex discusses the difficulties authors have nailing down how they write their novels. He has some interesting insights. Over to you Alex.
As a writer, one of the most common questions you will get asked, besides the insulting and impossible to answer to any degree of satisfaction question of, How many books have you sold, is undoubtedly going to be something directed at the way in which you approach the task at hand.
How do you write your novels?
Do you always know how your book is going to go?
How much preparation do you do for your characters?
Do these sound familiar?
These questions, while interesting to hear, because it means that the person you are talking to is interested in the process rather than the success, are often the hardest to answer. Twice at least.
I say this because it is, for more writers, impossible to give the same answer to these questions twice in a row. I don’t mean this in the sense of, I can’t remember the exact word for word answer I gave the last time but on a much more fundamental level. It is physically impossible to answer this question twice, giving the same themed response.
Why? Well, every book, every project is different. The story is different, the characters, unless you are writing a series, are going to be different. There will be a varied tone and style to their work, certainly for younger, or shall we say, less experienced, writers. For they are trying hard to find their voice, to find that natural tone.
I have now published four full length novels and four (currently unavailable) short story collections, and what worked for the first tale, did not work for the second.
This was a painful fact for me to learn, and it is something that every writer needs to experience for themselves before they understand the meaning behind it.
My first novel, Highway to Hell, I planned out in my head, chapter by chapter, for the most part, but for the sequel, I just couldn’t figure it out ahead of time. I tried, and deleted close to sixty thousand words after finding myself bored and fed up with the story. It turned out that this novel needed to be written ‘on the fly’. This was a frightening process, as I knew nothing, and as I wrote there were passages which I marked for the editing phase. I hated them, and they were out of place, or so it seemed. Then, suddenly, at the end of the book, I found myself linking back to these passages which suddenly not only made sense, but helped round off the tale perfectly.
My novel Diaries of the Damned was written in a similar way. Whereas my most recent novel, Blood of the Tainted was written following the basic storyline, I had in my head, and then the details and a sub plot were added during the re-write phase.
It is impossible to gauge, before you start putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys, as would be more apt in the modern world, how you should write the novel. You could write a wonderful plan, mapping out every conversation and plot point to fit every style guide and craft book you have read, but suddenly, you find yourself stuck. Your imagination has a flare and before you know it the book is going in a different direction.
It is hard not to fight this, not to try and stick to the routine that provided you such success the last time, but it is nature. It cannot be fought any more than we can fight the aging process. We can give it a good try, but ultimately we lose. Go with what your mind, what the natural writer inside of you is saying, and not what the real you wants to do.
Books are a part of us, the characters are part of who we are. They are friends, people who we learn about as we write. The best characters, like the best friendships, are not defined from the very beginning, but evolve naturally over time.
Think about your social interactions. How you behave at work, at home, down the pub with your friends. We do not operate on a single basis of interaction. We adapt as necessary based on where we are, who we are with. We are not denying who we are, but we are allowing the different components of who we are to shine when the time is right.
This is exactly how it works with writing. Whether you are writing standalone novels, a series, or short stories, even blog posts, such as this. The approach you take will vary, because each one will be using a different part of who you are as a writer as the dominant creative voice.
Embrace it, because it knows what it is doing. Once you accept this, two things will happen. Writing will become that much easier, because you know you are doing what is right, and the task of answering the questions mentioned above will become that much harder, for you will be more aware of the layers that run beneath it all.
Thanks for reading.
Born and raised in the coastal English town Lowestoft, it should come as no surprise (to those that have the misfortune of knowing this place) that Alex Laybourne became a horror writer.
From an early age he attended schools which were at least 30 minutes’ drive away from his home, and so most of his free time was spent alone.
He claims to have been a writer as long as he can remember. With a wild and vivid imagination he finds it all too easy to just drift away into his own mind and explore the worlds he creates. It is a place where the conditions always seem to be just perfect for the cultivation of ideas, plots, scenes, characters and lines of dialogue
He is married and has four wonderful children; James, Logan, Ashleigh and Damon. His biggest dream for them is that they grow up, and spend their lives doing what makes them happy, whatever that is.
Official website and blog site http://alexlaybourne.com/
Thanks Alex for your insights.
Sharon A. Crawford
Author of the Beyond mystery series – most recent Beyond Blood (Blue Denim Press, 2014).