(For our friends who need to be reminded…it IS possible to write a novel! And Leonard tells us the first step!)
A late general complaint from all people who want to write novels is:” I’d love to write a novel–but I don’t know what to write about–or where to begin.” That is a mediocre excuse for not writing a novel. It is only when you do not view your life as an adventure you have miraculously survived, that you do not have anything to write about.
The greatest contribution to all novel writing is the writer’s dramatic vision. You must see your life as dramatic. Viewing yourself as ” everyone” or” anyone” reduces all the hurt, fear, worry, disappointment, loneliness, abuse, and reaching out for happiness into an experience so common it was not worth enduring. You must believe your own life is a stack of novels already lived and realized, and waiting to be written.
The universal substances in all literature of any nation is based on the dramatized account of the” young man\young woman” in search of self, of place, of soul, of love. From Homer’s Odyssey of Ulysses to the sprawling structure of James Joyce’s Ulysses there are thousands of other ” youth adventure” novels that have been written. Crime and Punishment, Moby Dick, David Copperfield, Nana, Anna Karenina, Tom Jones, Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” We have all lived an Odyssey that can be written about. You have kept your life secret and hidden and anonymous long enough. It is now time to give your life some creative visibility.
You could use the fairytale of Red Riding Hood as a model. You can use the story-structure and plot line as you know it–or modify and adapt it to fulfill what you need. You will be the major character. It can be an adventure story, a romance, a study of character relationships. It can be changed to an escape-and-rescue novel, or one of espionage, a fantasy, or a horror novel. It depends upon how interestingly you view an interval of your life and how inventive you are.
If you are 22 years old, or 37, or 58, find an event in your life in which you are most dramatic. An interesting, curious, shattering, sensational, bewildering, bitter, or joyous experience. Why you left your hometown or why you remained. You have never loved anyone or you have been hurt by all the people you have loved. Most of your days is a depression–or you are lusty with expectations. A time of anger, a time of laughter.
You have given your life to God, you are searching for God, you despise God. You’ve tried suicide–you intend to kill yourself tomorrow. You are alone. You drink too much, think too much about sex, have been in car accident and are crippled, hate animals, or fear growing old. If you are some or all of these people, you have many dramatic times to write about.
Fix yourself into the “time-of-yourself” you want to write about, and remained there for a while. Remember a little of what happened before that time, remember some of what happened after. Now begin writing about it. Put it in simple, direct compositional form. You will be given one continual, unvarying guarantee: whatever you write about will be awful.
Amateurish, and shockingly dumb. If anyone ever sees it, you will leave town ashamed. That is the first “creative experience” you must overcome. In your fantasy and hope, the writing was symphonic, spellbinding–in the actual writing it becomes a dribbling ditty. What did you expect? Instant perfection? You become a writer of novels because you believe you have a literary experience to offer. You remain a writer because you can persist, and continue. All it is costing you is time you would waste anyway.
Keep at it. You are about to embark on an errand that will be exciting and jammed with adventure. Change Red Riding Hood’s errand into another. Example: you are the mother of a child whose Frisbee is blown by the wind. The child chases it. A long black car stops. The driver grabs her. It is her father who does not have visitation rights. He will take her to Wyoming to live. You go after the child.
As a writer you are involved in the enterprise of pretend. You can be the little girl who was kidnapped. You can be the mother. Or the father. You can divide your perception and imagination to become all three. Do not limit your personality and character by viewing it from one surface.
See yourself as a many-fascinated diamond. Various, changeable, complex, unpredictable, interesting. Inside the diamond is a precious and marvelous light. Let this light glow through your many facets.
Not everyone who tries to write a novel will become a writer. But you can try, and through trying, realized if it is a day-dream or reality. Novelists are not born. They are creations of their own effort. Don’t lock your creative life away because you will not risk appearing dumb for a little while. Open the closet and let yourself out. You may be exceptional, and marvelous. The novel you have always wanted to write is ripe for being written–today.
© 2013 the Estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published November 10, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)