My accidental novel

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?

albino ferret face surounded by plants

Nicolai, mighty hunter and secret investigator

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.

 

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About Susan NC Price

Writing coach Susan NC Price has been a poet all her life and an editor for half her life, but only realized in her late 30s that she enjoyed writing all sorts of prose as well. The twin epiphanies of word processing and realizing she no longer had teachers forcing her to use their style of outlining outlines contributed to her late-blooming love of writing. Susan has 1 prizewinning short story, 2 grown writer sons, 3 current e-newsletters she maintains and a host of writing projects to her credit. She's currently working to develop new writers through her coaching endeavor: re/Write: Scribbles to Stories (see Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ReWrite-Scribbles-to-Stories).
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