How can one have a novel by accident? I doubt I’m alone in reaching this achievement, but to get to the point, we need first to backtrack a bit.
I wrote one [unpublishable] fanfiction novel a while back, just to prove I could. That wasn’t accidental, though it started out as a screenplay because I was writing in the Stargate SG-1 universe. I actually submitted the screenplay version to the production company (with a signed release of claims against similar ideas showing up) … and got a very polite silence.
At least they let me submit. The licensed novel publisher at the time was only accepting manuscripts from published authors. So in truth, I wrote Entertaining Angels Unawares for myself. Fun, but a lot of work for close-to-zero readership. Of course, it’s not that good, really. It could become good with revision, but why would I put that much work into something unpublishable?
So back to my accidental novel. I wrote that for my friend Sophie, who liked my (then only) ferret Nicolai and who still loves dragons. After a trip to Chicago on the train with Sophie & her parents plus my (adult) son Charlie, I decided to write a story about Sophie, Nicolai and dragons.
A short story … that was my original intention, at least. I wrote a couple of pages, emailed them off to Sophie’s mother, and repeated the process the next evening. Two weeks later, with the story still gaining complexity rather than resolving, I realized that my “short story” had already passed novella territory and was turning into a full-length novel. Children’s novel length, but still …
About 20 months later, I brought the story to an end. I’m not completely content with the ending yet and will probably change a few other details when I go back and do a real edit, not just a proof-as-I-go effort. But as a person who always had trouble with the beginning-middle-end structure of story-telling, I’m pleased to have come this far.
How did it happen? The basic story elements: Sophie, the ferret Nicolai, even the blue-silver-red color of the first dragon, all came from real life. My friend, my ferret, the colors of the Metra trains, which Sophie told my son were really dragon-trains. I added the idea that Sophie and Nicolai would form a secret investigative team and that the two of them would “save the dragonlands” … and just started writing.
More or less by accident I’d picked a story premise that carried both the reason for the quest and the resolution: the dragonlands (wherever /whatever they were) needed saving, and Sophie and Nicolai would help them be saved. Along the way, Sophie and the dragon egg-twins both learn a little about growing up.
The first half of the book seemed to write itself, setting up the problem and the characters. I never planned more than a chapter or two ahead but ideas kept coming. Until I realized I’d set everything up and now needed to start unraveling the problem and reaching my successful conclusion. That took more thought. Week- or even month-long gaps showed up in my writing schedule as I worked out the details.
What kept me going? I had a very specific audience of one for whom I was writing: Sophie. She’d ask when the next bit was coming and I’d feel guilty until I got something written and sent off. Who can disappoint a first grader? Or (by the time I finished) second grader?
Well, to be quite truthful, I wrote for Sophie’s mother as well, which kept me alive to bigger-picture issues … and I wrote for myself, to tell a story I found engaging. On the whole, a fun process, and one I may repeat, with a novel intendedthis time, perhaps including Sophie’s current dog … or maybe a scifi novel with a Sophie-like main character and three ferrets.