Tawdra Kandle: How I Write a Novel
August 9, 2012
All authors begin the same way. Deep within the recesses of their brains, a new idea is demanding to be released. A few characters have already taken their first breaths and are ready to do what needs to be done, both good and bad. They are pulling hard on the leash and can’t wait to be released into the real world, even if it’s a world that doesn’t exist. The writer sits there staring at a blank screen, dreading to type the first word because once it is written, they are committed to hammering together another fifty to seventy thousand words and telling their individual story. Now the work begins. And every author works differently, racing fearlessly, breathlessly, and restlessly toward the end.
Tawdra Kandle, author of “The King Series,” Fearless, Breathless, and Restless: I think that for most writers, inspiration comes in the form of questions: Why? Why is that woman at the bar looking so flustered by what her date is saying? How? How did the couple celebrating fifty years of marriage weather the storms of life together? And the most essential question of all: what if? What if the man at the bar has just told his date that he is a spy recently burned by his organization, on the run for his very life?
Those are certainly what motivate me. In my first series, for example, the idea of a young girl who could hear thoughts came from a ‘what if’ question. My sister and I used to joke that since our babies seemed to wake up at night when we thought about them, perhaps they could actually hear our thoughts. That piqued my curiosity: What if you did have a baby who could hear thoughts? What if it were a lifelong ability that you as a parent had to cope with, teach your child about, struggle to accept? What would that look like?
Once I ask a question that I sense might have a story hidden within, I usually begin by making notes. I jot down some key thoughts, some character names, a few plot ideas. And then I either clean or walk. I find that keeping my body busy frees my mind to wander, to see what these new characters have to say. Mopping, vacuuming or dusting are great mind-freers. When I have a loose outline of how a book should unfold, I make more notes.
I’m not an outliner. Instead, I type up a few paragraphs that tell me where the character are in the beginning, what happens to move them into action, the building action, the climax and then of course the resolution. I don’t make it too detailed, although if there is any essential pivotal point, I include that. I also add any important continuity details. For example, in The King Series, the first three books take place in high school. Class schedules and teachers need to stay constant, so I always had Tasmyn and Michael’s on hand.
If I’m writing a book that is further along in a series, I begin at the beginning and just write on through to the end. I might jump a chapter if I know where the characters need to move but not HOW to move them; sometimes the very action of writing them in their desired place will inform me how they came to be there. If I’m working on the first book in a series, or a stand-alone, I might begin by writing the chapter or scene that most intrigues me. There’s nothing like writing something that clicks and glows to inspire me to keep slogging through the less-fun parts of writing the book!
I am a concurrent editor. Each time I sit down to write, I re-read the chapter I finished most recently and make any corrections or changes. This serves a dual purpose of helping to keep my work a little cleaner and refreshing my mind about where in the story I am.
When I finish a book, I let it sit for a few days before I go back and begin a thorough review. I watch for repetitive words, typos, awkward phrasing and continuity errors. I am also careful to look at things like transitions, dialogue and pacing. When I feel I have made it as good as I can, I send it to my editor for a line-by-line edit to catch all of the mistakes I’ve missed.
My process is purely my own. I know writers who need more structure than I employ, but my writing has to work along with my life. My first books were written at my kids’ baseball games, at bowling alleys during homeschool PE, in the car waiting for children or husband . . . at airports, in trains, bookstores and coffee shops. I write late at night, when my house is finally quiet, and I hide in bed on weekends when everyone else is involved fun activities.
I was able to write my first two books at home, but by the time I was getting to the end of the third book, my life has spiraled out of control. I had to go away by myself, with no access to a car, to finish the book. I hunkered down in a timeshare condo with lots of bottled water, pretzel M & M’s, chips with onion dips, my laptop and tons of good music. I didn’t have to stick to any kind of reasonable schedule; I could write all night and sleep all day if I wanted. It worked, and I finished the book within about four days.
Clearly that’s the magic formula: junk food, music and isolation. At least, that’s what works for me.