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Lyn Alexander

News

The Officer's Code is now available in trade paperback from these outlets:

Amazon Canada

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble

All four of the Schellendorf novels at Amazon US

 

KM Weiland, a best selling author on Amazon, has written a number of novels and several excellent books about structuring fiction. She also hosts an amazing site called 'Helping writers become authors', where she has listed one of my novels among her favourites of 2014.
Check out K.M. Weiland's blog site for a LOT of information for aspiring writers:

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2014/12/top-books-2014.html

Lyn Alexander

The way I write a novel

Writing a novel takes months of your life just to finish the first draft. You really have to love doing it. If I thought ahead about the work involved, I might never start. However…

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Sorry ~ trite but true)

My way of starting a novel is very simple, and perhaps simple-minded. It begins with a character. Once I become fully involved with this main character, the rest will happen. I don’t know who this character is, I don’t know his/her story, and I have no idea what I’m going to write about. I certainly don’t know how it ends. I find the germ of this character from a tiny idea of what he/she does in life, and I start to write. Not details like colour of hair, manner of speaking, where he (let’s drop the he/she) went to school, what his mother looks like, whether he prefers beef or salad… No, nothing like that. No notes of description or back story, no planning of events. No plot outline, no dramatis personae. I will only discover other characters as they enter in. The thing that keeps me writing is my curiosity to know what comes next, and how it happens, and how the POV character feels, acts, and reacts.

I start walking with this embryonic person through his day. For example ~ the opening paragraph of “Steel Walker” (Doubleday 1964) ~ “It was coming to dusk when he walked into the town. Footsore, aching in the shoulders from carrying his saddle and pack all that way, he had to find a place to bunk down and he didn’t think he’d find it here. Small town, white town, they wouldn’t want him stopping...” And so it goes: a rodeo rider trying to get to his next rodeo in a quiet scene with just a hint of trouble, looking out at the world from inside the head of a half-breed Indian stuck in the ultra-conservative Texas Panhandle of 1963.

Or “Born Running” (unpublished). “I was born running. Running away and running after. When I was a kid in Napoli I used to run up and down the steep lane where we lived, skipping over the stone steps, dodging the neighbours as they walked along. I imagined myself a pixie unseen by human eye as I twinkled around the legs of passing adults. They never looked down, they never saw me there...” So I follow this street kid to find out where she’s going, and the story unfolds naturally until, as I write, she tells me who she is.

Or “The English General” (iUniverse 2007): “Captain Helmuth Brandt was not Army. He wore the uniform, but he did not move like a regular. There was a vague insolence in the way he stood before the desk, not quite at attention, his head thrown back, his eyes challenging Erich directly down a noble Aryan nose.” This story is not about the captain, but about the general behind the desk, with his thoughts and suspicions about the captain, on the eve of Hitler’s war. A little further along I find that this German general inside is not exactly as he appears on the outside, and I follow him until I know.

So! It all starts and ends with character, and it is the character who tells me how the whole thing will unfold.

Write what you know, is the old advice.

How do I know these people? Why do I write about a half-breed Indian? a Neapolitan guttersnipe? a German general? Because they interest me.

That’s where imagination comes in, married firmly with research. Imagination drives the writing: research holds it down. The whole endeavour is a constant battle between the two. On the other hand, it’s impossible to write what you don’t know; so every word comes out of free imagination, solid research, and out of tiny bits and pieces of the author’s entire life, inserting a detail here, an experience there, an emotion, a description, an event, a view; and most definitely a philosophy.

But, read my novels and you still do not know ME. Because I am hidden. Because on page one, the character takes over and I disappear.

I do not impose my will on the character. He does what he will do. On occasion I have tried to drive the story in a certain direction: but it doesn’t happen unless the characters agree. It’s impossible to explain how this works.  This is, after all, fiction, and I’m supposed to be in charge of the thing. Nevertheless, while writing the first draft, I am a follower.

Once the draft is done I understand everything. Now I go back to revise, rewrite, delete, neaten it up, and control it. This is where discovery ends and the novel takes form. There must be a beginning, a middle (that vast region of designed drama unfolding) and an end. For me there has to be some logic of progression. The main characters must intertwine in their lives and destinies. I do not need to ratchet up the tension with every paragraph: it happens as it happens. I do not need an opponent or a villain: life itself gives us all we need of those. I do anchor the story in historical time, and claim a place in that history. There has to be a philosophy, a morality. There must be irony: irony is strength. The ending should fall naturally into place, tie things not too precisely together, refer in some way back to the beginning, and leave a question or two.

The beginning demands the most rigorous revision of all, to draw the reader in and make him care. The beginning is the toughest part, and I honestly don’t know how well I do with beginnings. It’s all a great game of chance, writing non-genre fiction. Perhaps if we attach a genre label to my novels it might be… literary historical with romance undertones.