What kind of book do I want to write?

I’ve been slowly, painfully, trying to work on novel No. 2, and the question that I’m struggling with, and will probably struggle with for a while, is “What kind of book do I want to write?”

I’ve been thinking about this book for a long time. I even wrote a number of chapters … about 15 years or so ago. I’ve scrapped those chapters, for now, because I think I’m writing a different book than I was then.

Here’s what I do know about this book I’m writing:

  1. The basic premise and conflict.
  2. The overarching theme.
  3. That the story is about a family.
  4. That there are three main characters.
  5. That for now, I’m going with third person, with point of view shifting chapter by chapter.
  6. The years it takes place. Probably 1968-1991.
  7. The setting.

Here are some things I’m working out:

  1. The structure. My experience with novel No. 1 tells me that it’s good to have a basic idea of structure at the start, to help me get things on paper, but to be flexible and let myself shake things up once I’ve written enough to see what structure would work best. For this book, I think I want the chapters to form a sort of collage. I’ve been thinking short chapters, with time shifts, probably moving chronologically forward, but maybe not. I toyed, briefly, with the idea of a novel in stories. But I don’t think that’s it. I’m not totally sure whether to shift point of view chapter by chapter or to give each character a discreet section. That’s OK. I’ll figure it all out.
  2. The level of realism. When I first worked on this idea, I was trying to weave religious myth into it. After a while, I worked those parts out. I think I made the right decision, but now I feel like I’m trying to write a Jhumpa Lahiri novel. Honestly, if I thought I could ever write as well as Jhumpa Lahiri, I would die happy. But I’m not sure her style of contemporary realism is what I’m aiming for.
  3. The plot. I never start out knowing the plot.

What kind of book do you want to write?

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