How to Write a Novel by Bill Crider
I’m sure you’re read Somerset Maugham’s wise words about novel writing before, but they bear repeating, mainly because I’m going to elaborate on them for a bit. Here they are: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
My first novel was published the year I turned forty. You could say I was a late bloomer, and I guess that’s true. I’d always wanted to write, but I hadn’t known how to go about it. I thought there was some arcane secret method that everyone knew but me. So naturally I set out to learn what it was.
Having been a reader all my life, I assumed that the secret method would be found in a book, and I set out to read as many books about writing as I could get my hands on. I read Writers Digest and The Writer. I listened to writers talk about their habits.
You probably know where this is going, so I’ll keep it short. I never did find out the secret. What I did find out was that there was no secret. Just as Maugham said, there are rules, but nobody knows what they are, least of all me. Even after having written fifty or sixty books (but who’s counting?), I still don’t know. Every time I sit down and see the words “Chapter One,” I feel as if I’ll never get any further. But somehow I do.
How do I do it? Well, I’ve adopted what I like to call the Alice in Wonderland approach. When the White Rabbit asks the King where he (the Rabbit, not the King) should begin, the King answers, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
So the answer (for me) turned out to be in a book, after all, even though it wasn’t a book where I expected to find an answer. It happens that for me, there was only one rule for writing a novel, not three, and it worked out unexpectedly well when I finally put it into practice. And now that I’ve come to the end of this little commentary, I’m going to stop.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
BILL CRIDER is a former college English teacher and is the author of more than fifty published novels and an equal number of short stories. He’s won two Anthony awards and a Derringer Award, and he’s been nominated for the Shamus and the Edgar awards. His latest novel in the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series is Between the Living and the Dead. His new one, Survivors Will Be Shot Again, will be out in August from St. Martin’s Press. Check out his homepage at www.billcrider.com, or take a look at his peculiar blog at http://billcrider.blogspot.com.