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Rules for Writing a Novel

There are no hard and fast rules for writing a novel. Well, there is one, and that is: There are no hard and fast rules for writing a novel. 


Oh, you thought there were? That what the professor said in class or what you read in any particular book were the absolute rock-solid laws that all the best writers follow? A famous author who knew something about the subject noted, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are."


That's a quote from William Somerset Maugham, the author of The Moon and Sixpence, Of Human Bondage, The Razor's Edge, and—yep, that William Somerset Maugham.


One of the finest books on writing is by Stephen King, simply titled On Writing. You won't find any rules, just great advice from one of the best writers around.


Here's my two cents: Grab an idea; let that be the key that opens the door to imagination; then follow wherever your story takes you, and do it however feels right for you. If outlining is your thing, map it out. If you enjoy making it up as you go along, start dreaming. If you prefer to stand on your head while tapping on your computer—well, I wish I could do that. Good for the brain.


However you do it, the point is to do it. Readers care about the words on the page, not how they got there.



Writing Advice from Sinclair Lewis

It's worth repeating the story: Sinclair Lewis was about to lecture on the craft of writing to a college class of aspiring writers. He began by asking: "How many of you are really serious about being writers?" All hands shot up. "Well, why the hell aren't you all home writing?" And he walked out.


Other versions say he sat down. Whatever he did, that was the end of the lecture.


So now you know what to do while you're at home in self-isolation. Or even if you're not.



Made for Another World

This is where my novel begins. A woman with an ambivalent connection to her past searches for her future, discounting the hidden influence of her eccentric neighbor with a very different past.


Chapter One 
August 15, 1973 
        "Come in, my dear. I have been waiting for you for a very long time," she said.
        Only three hours earlier, I'd been barreling down the interstate from Chicago in my T-bird at seventy miles an hour—eighty when I could get away with it. I'd left my favorite city behind, heading south for a detested Indiana farm town plunked in the middle of the Wabash Valley. The astonishing beauty of the valley never failed to bring tears to my eyes; those people didn't deserve it. But I loved my mom and dad, and Barnesport was where they lived—and where she lived—so there was no choice. I would focus on them and ignore the town. Eventually, I swore never to return, but that was afterwards. 
        I'd almost forgotten my ancient neighbor and her gloomy house. Years had gone by since I'd thought her a witch or thought of her at all. Over the last few weeks, however, and for no logical reason, that house and what I'd seen or maybe imagined had been almost constantly in my thoughts. There was this sudden need to talk to the woman, inexplicably still alive, still puttering around in that cheerless edifice with its resident ghost. So many years had passed, but what are years to a ghost (if there was one)? And where had all those people come from? What had actually happened there? More to the point, what difference did any of it make? 
        My decision to take this trip probably had less to do with esoteric phenomena than with escape—that's what I was thinking. I'd have some time to figure things out, distanced from my troubles or, better yet, I'd just ignore them for a few days. And I wanted to see my mom and dad. It could have been any of that. Later, I realized it was the dreams that I never could recall. They had begun a few weeks earlier, no different from any other dreams that fade with the morning light, except for leaving behind an unsettling sense of urgency. It was those nothing dreams that had pushed me into what I thought was my own idea.
        It was a good time to make my getaway—the kids were at music camp. I missed them. I missed the delight that bubbled up in me, eavesdropping on their musical conversation as they roamed the condo practicing—Sara playing a scale or a couple of bars on her flute, Michael's clarinet picking it up, sometimes jazzing it up, back and forth. They didn't do that when Rob was home; to their father it was noise. 
        Going to camp together wasn't unusual for Michael and Sara. Fraternal twins, they did nearly everything together. Even though not identical, one looked so much like the other, there was no mistaking their relationship. And there was no mistaking their relationship to me—the same weird greenish-gold eyes, the same thick, dark brown hair. That was a sore point with Rob, his buzz-cut a light reddish-brown; his eyes, brown. He liked to joke that they were my children, but not his. It was never funny and eventually became nothing short of cruel. 
        Rob didn't miss them and he wouldn't miss me, busy as he was with the office, hospital rounds, and house calls. Doctors still made house calls in those days, although most of Rob's house calls were not so much to minister to the sick as to minister to impressionable nurses on their days off or to bored wives of hospitalized husbands. He'd managed to convince those women, along with most of his patients, that he walked on water (his words). He was a cardiologist, and a good one, too—he actually had saved lives, so it didn't take much convincing. Rob had no desire to accompany me on this trip; he was making other plans. 
        I wrote to Mom and asked her to tell Miss Tenny I was coming. It didn't dawn on me that Miss Tenny had no need for advance notice.

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