Monday, January 31, 2011

First Cars, First Novels

My first car was a blue station wagon that had seen better days while it still had its first transmission. It was a quirky car, and its biggest quirk was its windshield wiper system.

I'm sure at one time the wipers had several different speeds, but by the time I was driving only one speed was reliable: moderately fast. In normal rain it did well. That was the sweet spot. Any other kind of rain was more difficult. I don't remember driving in many downpours, but I don't think I'd have gotten far in one. I would have been driving blind.

Trickiest, though, was a light rain. One of the most annoying sounds in the world is the choppy sound of a wiper going back and forth across a dry windshield, and that was the sound my wipers made in a drizzle. The easiest solution was to turn the wipers on for a few seconds, then turn them off. On. Off. On. Off. Got old pretty fast.

But there was another solution. The wipers also had an elusive slow speed that I could only find if I fiddled with them enough. Turn them on too low and they would wipe once and then sit there in the ready position indefinitely. Turn them on too high and they would jump right to medium speed. But if I could get them just right I would have the perfect rhythm for light rain.

Only there was one problem with all this. My wiper system happened to be on the same stick as my turn signal. Without fail, every time I used my turn signal, the wipers would stop altogether.

See, my poor old car couldn't do two things at once. It didn't have the capacity for more than one operation at a time. Too many commands only confused it.

I think new writers can be that way with our first novels. We have some idea of what aspects go into a story, but we don't know how to do two different things at once. Write description while developing a character? Move the plot forward while allowing the characters some witty banter? Like my first car, sometimes we throw our hands up in surrender. One thing at a time!

I remember feeling that way with my first novel. I could do blocks of dialog or blocks of plot or blocks of back story, but not in combination. And description? Forget it!

But scenes need to be able to do several things at once, and incorporate them all so smoothly that the reader doesn't notice. I know I'm getting better at this, but I still often don't add certain aspects until a few revisions in. My hope is that one day the process will become so natural that I do it without even having to think. I'm not there yet, but I get closer with every book.

How about you? Any first car stories? First novel stories?

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