Thursday, April 07, 2005

Novel V: Visualize

Back in March I talked about how I pitch a novel. What happens after I pitch depends on two things: if the editor wants to buy the book and if the offer is acceptable.

A few words on the offer -- I am not an advocate of huge, make-or-break advances. Luckily I started out with a $5K advance per novel, which tends to keep your expectations realistic. My advances presently average out to about $21.5K per book, which matches what my average sell-through earns. I prefer to be paid by the numbers, because my sales are slowly but consistently growing larger from one book to the next, and so should my income. An advance based on my actual sales performance also virtually guarantees the publisher won't lose money on the novel.

Once I've got the sale and the deal nailed, I've got the green light to make book. It's time to move into the construction phase of the novel process. I've already done the imagining, researching, and outlining for the novel, and I probably have at least a hundred pages of it written as part of the pitch, so everything is ready to go.

When you build a house, you don't start building right away. You need a dream, a plan, and backing, then build. Before I can build, though, I need to see the house in my head. So this is when I visualize the novel.

I've tried to explain this see-the-novel-in-my-head a million times and it inevitably comes out sounding stupid. Evidently few to zero writers think in non-existent movies about unwritten novels, but that's what I do. I cast the story with characters I can see in my head, and then I run them through the story in scenes that play out in loops that I alter and rerun until they work. I also find a song or songs to play as theme music while I'm doing all this mental choreography, and I will listen to that song/songs every time I work on the visualization.

Example: Think of a Desperado-era Antonio Banderas, only not as well-dressed or groomed. Got that image? That's Thierry Durand in my head. Think of a malnourished, non-sparkling Ashley Judd. That's Jema Shaw. In this scene, these two are going to meet for the first time.

Put Thierry on the stone balcony of a mansion with snow falling around him at night. Everything is dark winter blue and cold moonlight. Have him pick the hook-and-eye lock on the balcony door with a curved dagger.

Move Thierry into the room, where Jema is huddled under an old Jacob's ladder patterned patchwork quilt. Have him breathe in and smell old books, flowers, and candle wax. He sees the kerosene lamps and antique furnishings, but to Thierry, they look like junk. Have him approach the bed and look down at Jema. See his shadow fall over her. See her eyes moving under her eyelids as she dreams in REM sleep. Now watch him reach out one hand toward her face, and how that shadow falls over her face.

That's my visualization for the beginning of that scene. I've already visualized the rest and tweaked it until I was satisfied with exactly what happens from the time Thierry steps into that room until he slips back out into the night. Once I have a scene like this one worked out in my head, I move onto the next scene. I visualize that and add it onto the previous scene. They become a series of scenes, and then chapters, and finally the book.

One important exception: I don't imagine dialogue in any of my visualized scenes. For me, dialogue comes out on the page better if I don't rehearse it. So while I know what needs to happen in this scene, and I have an idea of what Thierry and Jema are going to say to each other, I don't worry about nailing it down now. I only have to see the characters and the choreography.

Music helps me enormously with this part of the process, and most of the time I choose one or two songs to serve as an image prompter and theme for any novel. Once I've heard it a few times, it's always playing in the background as I run through the visualized book in my head. The music helps me hang onto the story as well. I can still run through the entire visual construct of StarDoc simply by listening to Pat Benatar's Love is a Battlefield.

Once I can see the story in my head from start to finish, I'm ready to write the book.

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