Revisiting the Three Rules for Writing A Novel

Rules List written on the blackboard with hand holding white chalk

Revisiting the Three Rules for Writing A Novel

Revisiting the Three Rules for Writing A Novel

Revisiting the Three Rules for Writing A Novel

As I close in the completion of my latest book, I, Claudia, I need to review this wonderful quip of a writer far more well-known than I.

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” I love quotes like this one from Somerset Maugham. He describes perfectly the illogical, irrational craft of writing fiction.

Recently I was interviewed by a writing blogger and promoter.

She asked two questions which intrigued me. First, what was my ‘writing process’, then how critical were the names of characters?

  • Process connotes a system in my view and I did not think I had one. For many years, I wrote only nonfiction: Articles, book chapters and a text book. All written about subjects like physiology, leadership, trends in critical care, each requiring rigid reliance on sources and precise terminology. Now that writing was clearly systematic: Detailed outlines and extensive research. But when about ten years ago, I switched to writing novels, my writing was wholly different. Uncomfortably so, because I had no outline to rely on. Although there was extensive research to be done for each of the novels, it was nothing like the process of writing my dissertation. Rather, almost entirely intuitive. But as I pondered these questions in the ‘author interview,’ I began to think about exactly how the story and its characters take on flesh and bones. In the past books and are currently beginning to take shape for the new one.
  • Names are critical in my loose “system”. Usually. But in I, Claudia, there is no mystery to the names. Not for Pontius Pilate nor for his wife Claudia. And yet a name can have a profound effect.
  • A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about my progress in this latest book. Almita asked why I had decided to write it.

For me and for many fiction writers, characters show up.

  • Certainly that has been the case for my Dr. Lindsey McCall mystery series. Lindsey quite literally appeared in my head during a long hike in the mountains behind my house. She became alive-still is.
  • If you have read any of my articles before, you may recall that I am a convert to the Catholic faith. And frequently, while praying, got stuck at ‘crucified under Pontius Pilate.’ Picturing the abysmal situation he found himself in. Imagining myself in his shoes and wondering how anyone could have extricated herself from that appalling dilemma.
  • When I told my friend Almita this, she replied simply, “I have never thought about him as anything other than the man who crucified Christ.” That no, she had never thought about the man.
  • While I was explaining some of the current story to her, in speaking of Pilate, I called him Lucius. She asked, “Who is Lucius? When I replied, “His name is Lucius Pontius Pilate.”
  • My friend said, “That changes everything for me. Merely because you have given him that name.”

Now, as I am writing the end of I, Claudia, I am revisiting the three rules for writing a novel.

  • Most of my books have been something around 300 to 375 pages long with the exception of the first one: The Fragrance Shed by A Violet-Murder in the Medical Center. It is far longer at 486 pages.
  • I, Claudia feels as if she will end up at around 275 pages or thereabouts.
  • So rereading Maugham’s quip affirms my gut feel for this story: Continue writing until their story is told and don’t worry about the word count.

 

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