Writing a Novel Is Like Being In Love

The last few months have been a beehive of activity, both good and bad, but one thing has seen me through all of these terrible and uplifting events — a new novel I’m writing, which has a very temporary working title "The Beacon Novel."

It tells the interconnected stories of five or six people in Beacon, a small city in the Hudson Valley Region of New York, just a short train ride outside of New York City, a community that has revitalized itself in the last fifteen years from a failing factory river town to an artistic enclave full of NYC ex-pats. The relationships, careers, fears, and dreams of these people all orbit around a tragic event — an unsolved murder — which serves as a fulcrum for their choices, be it to improve their lives and make changes or remain on their course to happiness or oblivion, depending on the character.

The original idea was to write a “small town novel” with a similar feel to both Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. The problem I’m having is that instead of having one narrative character I follow and surround with secondary characters, as I did with my other novels so far, I have five or so characters that I follow. Each chapter witnesses a different character’s next step (via third-person, so as not to get TOO confused), and throughout the novel we see them crossing paths with one another, with each instance interspersed with other little side-tales about the town and neighborhoods, about people and places, much like Cannery Row.

But as I develop the characters to make them as real as possible, I feel I lose sight of the narrative thread of the whole novel, and when I try to focus on that in order to make it a complete arc, I fear I lose sight of a character’s growth and individual direction. When I expand one, the other tightens. It’s a careful balancing act, and I might have to rely on my test readers more than ever before to help me see the forest for the trees, and vice versa. 

I have also pulled more traits from people I know in real life than ever before. No one character is based on any one person in my life  — they’re all composites of two, three, four people with a hefty dose of fictional quirks — but it still makes it hard to write the character honestly and without fear that someone might feel as if they see themselves in a character and not like what they see. But each character is a true fictional creation, pushed and pulled in directions the people I know if life would likely never take … even so, I do worry I have not made them “unique” enough. 

It all makes me realize that writing a novel is like being in love — the book will drive me insane one day, and the next day I couldn't be happier, and it's almost all I can think about during the waking hours. It has kept me going through a lot this year — through multiple deaths and a near-fatal illness, through tough days in the office and long nights on trains and busses, on and on. Writing has been a constant companion, and I’m grateful to have it along for the ride.

I’ll let you know how the novel progresses. As ever, thanks for reading and for your support.