Friday, July 26, 2013

The evolution of a novel

Candlewood Lake
Candlewood Lake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many years ago, a friend lost his wife and all four of his children in a house fire. The fire started at night. My friend and one of his sons made it out alive, but the boy died a few days later. This tragic event haunted me for years. One weekend, I sat down and wrote a 5000 word story. In the story a nine-year-old boy loses his mother in a house fire.

I had never written a book before this, and knew little about writing fiction. After passing the book by my writing partner, I became convinced it needed a major rewrite. I put it aside while I thought about just what I wanted to do with the book.

In the year or so after I finished the story, I enrolled in and completed the Institute of Children's Literature course, signed up for an online writing group, and studied the craft of fiction.  Then I rewrote the novel. I completed the first draft and signed up for a course on editing.  After reading the first assignment, I decided to use chapter three rather than either of the first two. Why? Because it was more interesting.

Yup, the first two chapters were back story. After consulting with both my fellow students and the instructor, I removed them. They dealt with the fire itself and its immediate aftermath, and 'd done a fair amount of research for those chapters, to say nothing of the time I'd spent writing them. I saved them saved them in a folder on my computer before  I could bring myself to cut them out.

The story is set in a semi-rural community outside a small town in Connecticut where my main character's grandmother lives. The house, the community, and the town, are modeled on the house my father owned in Birch Groves. Birch Groves, on Candlewood  Lake, is a few miles outside New Milford.  The grandmother was inspired by my own sons' grandmother. My mental picture of the house that burned down is taken from her home in New Jersey.

I need to be able to picture something to write about it, so I needed to be able to see the layout of the homes, where the furniture was placed, what the trees around the house were, the roads, the lake. As I wrote the story, I pictured my characters moving around in my father's house, wandering up the same roads I had walked down so often as a child, and riding the bus to school.

My friend endured a tragic loss, one from which, in some ways, he never recovered. None of us can rewrite the past, but by writing my story, I was able to move on in my own life.

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  1. A most healing story Margaret. We are blessed when we have the ability to write about what intrudes on our emotions. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Margaret, what a heart-wrenching thing to happen. As Susan mentioned, it is a blessing when we can take a tragedy and create something productive from it. It's so interesting what motivates an author to write a particular book. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  3. Dear Margaret,
    It is great that by writing this story you have been able to not only help yourself but also help others who may have lived through a similar situation. Thanks for sharing your back story with us. Good luck in all your endeavors.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards