October 28

Writing the Novel You Don’t Want to Write | Fiction Writers Review


Novelist Brian Morton talks about novels that shift and change in the process of writing, with main characters who appear out of nowhere, eventually replacing the protagonists and plots he had first envisaged.

Decades ago, when I was in college, I had a writing teacher who told his students to “write the novel you want to read.” I’ve been trying to follow this advice for almost forty years now, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

I found the essay intriguing, because I don’t write like that. This is not to claim that my way is better; I’m still getting good at this novel-writing thing. Only for me, I tend to just get stuck in places until I re-see my original ideas more clearly, work out the missing element whose absence was making the writing feel flat. When that element is finally perceived, of course, it can provoke new scenes, additional characters. But rarely to the drastic extent Morton describes.

How about you? How open are you, in your writing, to the unexpected?


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  • I’m very open to my stories going in unexpected directions and my characters behaving badly, but I’m a pantser, so that probably explains it. The book I’m about to start writing, though, I’ve planned out in detail, just to see if I like that way of working better. So I may have a totally different answer in a month or so.

  • I think that’s the best answer to these sort of things: well, right now, I’m doing this…

  • Unfortunately, all of my writing takes me places I’ve never intended them. I swear, editing is a hostage negotiation where I try to cajole the story to let go of the million plot threads and stick to just one idea. It’s a warped take on the anti-drug ads of my childhood: This is your novel on ADD, any questions?

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