Novel Conqueror

Writing My First Novel

Hero’s Journey Complete (Novel Prep: Week 6, Day 7)

I’m in weeks 8-11. All plot every day. I’ve spent all week taking my main character through the hero’s journey. What I discovered is just how many possibilities for this story there are. At this point, I have a grasp on what’s going to happen, I just can’t be sure how in a lot of ways. That’s cool. That leaves room for unexpected things to happen during the drafting process. 

I also wrote out the motivations for the other important characters: what do they want and why? Do they get it? How do they struggle? How do they change? etc. So those characters are starting to feel like they have a life outside of what the main character is going after. Which is good. In the worst movies, the side characters have no concerns of their own, they  just want the main character to be happy. That makes me sick lol. 

Still going…

The Hero’s Journey (Week 6, Day 4)

For the last couple of days, I’ve been taking my main character through the hero’s journey. Dufresne references a memo by a Hollywood producer who summarized the original concept by Joseph Campbell. Click here for that. It’s good stuff. Here’s the gist: 


The hero is introduced in his ordinary world, where he receives the call to adventure. He is reluctant at first but is encouraged by the wise old man or woman to cross the first threshold, where he encounters tests and helpers. He reaches the innermost cave, where he endures the supreme ordeal. He seizes the sword or the treasure and is pursued on the road back to his world. He is resurrected and transformed by his experience. He returns to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or elixir to benefit his world.

So the idea is to translate your story into that. What’s the ordinary world? What calls the character to action? etc. This is cool. I’m getting to know all of the characters better this way as I begin defining their roles.

Writing for 3 hours a day hasn’t happened the past 2 days. I was telling someone that preparing lecture notes for one of my classes is like writing a 6 page paper every other day. I have friends who don’t attempt to do creative work during the semesters while they teach. I honestly think I’ll resent my job if I don’t try. So I’ll keep doing what I can. No matter what, this novel is happening by June. 


Relations (Novel Prep: Week 5, Day 7)

This is one of those nights where I’m going to commit to 30 minutes and see how far I end up going. More writing about how the characters relate to each other. Hopefully something interesting will come up!

Interactions (Novel Prep: Week 5, Day 6)

Today was just a day of exploring the characters’ impressions of each other, how they met, and what they all think of each other. I think I’ll be doing this for awhile and I’m okay with that. This feels like where the story is. 

Dying Wishes and What Not (Novel Prep: Week 5, Day 5)

Totally forgot to blog last night! So I’m in the Week 7 & 8 exercises in Is Life Like This? Yesterday I wrote about different jobs and the types of people that might do them and what is required, which led me to write about themes such as anticipation, acceptance, and obligation. 

My main character is only 12 years old so I wrote about her job–going to school–and what that’s like for her. 

I also did some exploration of my belief systems, where they originated from and how they’ve evolved.

And one of the exercises had the interesting scenario where Nabokov had asked his son to burn his manuscript when he died, but the son was all conflicted about that. So I wrote about how I would handle the situation. I’m all for carrying out a writer’s dying wish not to have something they don’t want published put out into the world. I think there’s something like a collective consciousness that will ensure that those ideas make their way out into the world some other way. That’s how come you can have an idea and not share it with anyone and the next thing you know it’s in someone’s book or on TV. That has happened to me so many times! I don’t believe you’re doing the world any favors by disregarding someone’s dying wish to have their writing destroyed.

I also wrote a couple sentences summing up what my story is so far and what the heart of the story is. I think the heart of what I’m writing about is how what’s right shifts. How it’s not always so easy to know what’s right and what’s wrong and why. 

Then I did some character development on one of the other important characters in the story. I got burnt out spending two weeks straight only writing about the main character so this was nice.

Speedy Fingers (Novel Prep: Week 5, Day 4)

My titling system is getting out of control! Okay, I’m on Day 3 of Week 7 in the Is Life Like This?. But I’m going to keep track of the actual days I’ve been writing in the titles.

Another good day in the notebook. I’m enjoying playing around with point of view. When revising poems, one of my favorite tricks is to change the point of view so I feel like I’m in somewhat familiar territory.

Today I wrote a two page monologue in the voice of a man since the exercise was to write as the opposite gender. He had just gotten bad news about his younger sister. I actually got a little teary eyed while writing it. That was crazy lol.

I also wrote letters from lovers who can’t be together. Of course, I went all dramatic and made the man be on death row. That was fun.

And I wrote from the perspective of a child who’s parents split up. Now I’m mad at his parents for not being more forthcoming with him.

I have never considered myself a fast writer. I write the same line over and over when I write poems. With prose, I start off really slowly too. But after 30 minutes to an hour of writing, things just take off and I can fill 10 handwritten pages very quickly. I roughly estimate that’s about 2400 words. And the last few days I’ve written for more than 3 hours/day.  I say this to say, I finished the Week 7 exercises. I could keep doing them over and over, but then I would lose all desire to write anything ever again. So I’m just going to keep going.

Weeks 8-11 are spent focusing on plot. I started off as a blank slate with no idea what to write. Now I have a main character, a setting, and several subplots. And I have an idea of how it opens and how it might end. Okay, I have the opening, each plot point, the climax and catharsis sketched out, if I’m being honest. It took about 5.5 weeks for that to develop with these exercises. I didn’t see that coming at all.

I really, really want to just go ahead and bust a first draft out, but I get a new and deeper understanding of the main character’s struggle every day with these exercises. And I’m trying to allow myself the opportunity to practice the basics–like dialogue and plot. But that’s ignoring the fact that I’ve taken intro and advanced fiction classes/workshops, a screenwriting course, and that I’ve actually taught the basics of fiction to gifted high school students.

Listing those things isn’t bragging. It’s the opposite of bragging. I don’t have confidence in my abilities to write fiction. This book (John Dufresne’s Is Life Like This?) is definitely helping by forcing me to practice things that I’ve sat back and said I just don’t understand how fiction writers do it for years and years. But this first draft will definitely be happening in less than 6 months. And I cannot believe I’m saying that.

More Point of View Work (Novel Prep: Week 7, Day 2 of the book)

More point of view stuff today. I wrote about a failed marriage from the point of view of the husband and the wife. I really enjoyed that because I’m interested in different sides of the same story and how perception shapes reality. I also did a free write on the theme of loyalty. 

On the reading front, I finished re-reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. She uses two different POVs: 1st person and 3rd person. I like this because the 1st person portions are from the perspective of a child, so the 3rd person sections let us get more of the story than the child could tell. I’m trying to decide if that type of thing would work in my story. Not sure, but I’m all about exploring ideas for now.

Shifting Points of View (Novel prep: Week 5, Day 2 —> Week 7, Day 1)

So here I am now on Week 7 (I’ll explain the jump ahead below). Week 7 is all about point of view and experimenting with it in order to choose a point of view for your story. This is the good stuff. Today I rewrote the opening paragraph to two novels in different points of view. I also rewrote the openings of few of my own stories from different points of view. Here’s what I discovered:

  • When shifting from 3rd person limited to 1st person: I felt the need to make the character sound more familiar with the surroundings in 1st person and to imply an ownership of the images. I also found myself conveying what the character felt about what was being described, like, applying that emotion to the way they were describing things.
  • 1st person to 3rd: I used proper grammar instead of the slang speech the 1st person speaker was using. 
  • 2nd person is a lot like 1st person
  • I’m thinking 1st person reminiscent will work best for my story, but I’m still exploring. I like the idea of there essentially being two “I’s”–the grown up I looking back and the I in the situation.

So how’d I get from Week 5, Day 2 up to Week 7?

Here’s the thing. Three hours a day is a lot of writing. I’ve been doing that. So the week 5 exercises in the book weren’t enough to sustain three hours of writing per day for a week because I finished them all and it’s Day 2. 

So I moved ahead to Week 6. The subject of Week 6 is exploring themes. You know how? By doing self-exploratory writing. Not just similar, but in some cases nearly identical to the exercises from week 1 and 2. I spent 42 hours + doing those exercises just 3 weeks ago. I’m not doing them again. Maybe they’re repeated in case you didn’t get to them or something. I got to them. I thoroughly got to them. So I’m skipping Week 6.

I’m a stickler for following guidelines and I really wanted to just follow exactly what the book says, but some of these chapters don’t include enough exercises to sustain a whole week. So I’m moving forward.

Place Matters (Novel Prep: Week 5, Day 1)

We are built to survive our environments.


-John Dufresne, Is Life Like This?

I really like the focus of this week. And that quote. Think about your childhood and how things were tough, but if you are an adult and you’re reading this, you survived it. You were built to. I love that thought. So of course, our characters are built the same way, right?

I love the idea that place can be character and can influence events. An example given in the text is about a story where men are lost at sea. The sea is a character, an antagonist. So I enjoyed thinking about the effects of place. My setting is the desert mountains. So I had a brush fire break out and made my character react to it.

Then there was an exercise where a guy who has to pee is freezing cold in Alaska and a pack of feral dogs approaches and you’re supposed to finish the scenario. My guy ended up hiding in deep snow, getting stuck, and then…you guessed it… peeing his way out. Nothing but high-brow stuff in my notebook, as you can see.

Oh, milestone alert: I’ve finished one month of learning how to write a novel. Only 5 more to go!

Day of Lists (Novel Prep: Week 4, Day 7)

Good day in the notebook. I went through and made a list of all the potential scenes I’ve come up with over the last 2 weeks so I’d have them all together. Then I made a list of all the characters I’ve come up with. Then I made a list of possible relationships between characters. Then I read through that all and thought up more possible scenes. These last two weeks have been productive. I’m still with you, Dufresne lol.