Ann Gelder

Ann Gelder
December 31
A writer and recovering academic. You can read my work in Alaska Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Flavorwire, Portland Review, The Millions, The Rumpus, and Tin House. I have taught comparative literature at Stanford and Berkeley. My first novel, Bigfoot and the Baby, will be published by Bona Fide Books in spring 2014.


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APRIL 28, 2011 11:06AM

The new novel is napping

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On Tuesday I finished the first draft of my second novel. In contrast to the first one, which took six-plus years, this one took less than a year.

One reason is that I had the voice for the new novel in my head right away. It's first person, alternating between past and present. Knowing this meant that a lot of point-of-view problems, as well as tone and mood problems, never arose. First person is quite limiting in other ways, and it didn't work for my first novel; but it seems that if you at least know who's talking and why, you can go a long way.

Another reason this one went relatively quickly is that I've learned to tolerate some remarkably egregious flaws in a first draft. These include:
  • A character who, Schrodinger's cat-like, is both alive and dead throughout the first half of the story. I couldn't decide which had to be the case, so I just kept writing till it became clear.

  • Another character who becomes three different people during the course of the story. When she first appeared I had one idea of the role she would play, but she evolved out of that. By the end became both the motive for the storytelling (the "narrative occasion," always an issue), and a fully worthy love interest for the narrator.

  • Not knowing who the killer was until the last paragraph. Maybe still not knowing.

  • The usual instances of overwriting, underwriting, and especially substituting summary for scene. God, why must there be scenes? Why can't everything be summary interspersed with occasional dialog?

  • Massive doubts as to whether the story even begins to make sense on any level.

What all this means, of course, is that revising is going to be a lot of work. But before that is the required cooling-off/baking/resting period, in which I ignore the novel for approximately two months so that I can tackle revisions with a new perspective. I'm shooting for July 1.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: During the next two weeks blogging may be lighter than usual, and/or unpredictable, due to work, travel, and family issues.

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Congratulations. Ignoring egregious flaws while plowing ahead is the surest way to nip block in the bud. Another helpful ploy I've found is to eventually break down - at about the first third of the way - and do a very rough outline, if only to remind me what the hell I was thinking of when I started the damned thing. The outline, which can be ignored thenceforth, serves in reserve as an emotional safety net to head off notions of suicide in the final third of the draft. One last ironclad rule: I do my first re-write on hard copy, amazed at how different on paper everything looks from the screen. Good luck.
Thanks for the tips, Matt. I've tried some version of the outline idea, but you're right; it's only a safety net, and can/must be ignored. I will try the hard copy thing for revision!