Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On writing a war novel - part 1

A lot of novels have been written about war and I have read a lot of those novels. My entire life I have had the desire to write a novel and in 1994-95 I wrote a 100,000 word novel called "Every Man was Free". As many of you know, writing a novel and getting it published are two completely separate tasks. The third part of this trilogy, promoting a book once it is published, is another task requiring knowledge and skills completly separate from the first two. Although I did not get that first novel published, I did learn a lot about what it takes to develop a story and then pound out the words until the manuscript was completed.

Spending a year in a combat zone was a very intense experience and the entire time that I was there I told myself and some close friends that I would write a novel about the experience. I returned home to Tallahassee in the Spring of 2004 and in June I started an electronic journal in a Word document. In this journal I wrote down my thoughts about what my novel would be about: the story, the characters, and the themes that I wanted to explore in the book. I found that this was a very effective way the "think out loud", ask myself questions and then try to answer them.

One mistake that I did not want to make, and that I had made in writing my first novel, was to labor two thirds of the way through the manuscript and realize that I had no idea how the novel was going to end. "Literary fiction" was once defined to me as starting a manuscript with a germ of an idea and then seeing where the characters and events lead. I yearned for more structure in my writing endeavors.

I found that structure in a technique called the Snowflake Method. Using that technique, I was able to complete a 90,000 word first draft of my novel, "The Lion of Babylon." I paid a friend to edit the mansuscript, and this gtave me plenty of suggestions to work on as I began a second draft. The most significant thing that I learned from her editing was that, no matter how well I wrote or how many words I produced, I could never really recreate the war or the Iraq that I had experienced for a year.

In my next post I will tell you why.

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