Building Trees

In my second novel, Appetites, I’ve been using a number of new tactics. I’d say techniques, but that would imply that I actually know what I’m doing. I don’t. The story just comes to me via scenes that play out in my head like movies at the drive-in.

I told you I enrolled in A Novel Approach, again. The way I figured, it got my first novel done so maybe lightning will strike twice. So far, so good.

For those that don’t know, A Novel Approach is a year-long writing workshop designed to walk the writer through the first draft of their novel. It employs techniques like free-fall writing and the notion that the story is more important, getting it down is the most important goal, editing and massaging it to fill out the details and iron out the lumps is a job for the second draft. Strike while the iron is hot.

My first novel, Echoes, progressed in A Novel approach by what is known as popcorn writing. As the scenes popped into my head I wrote them down. Appetites, on the other hand, is progressing in a fairly straight line.

Let me clarify, I am not a plotter. I have a problem with plotting out a novel because it feels fake to me. I’m not saying it is bad, in fact look at Terry Fallis, he plots his awesome novels right down to the word count per chapter. Or my friend and fellow writer Lisa LLamrei, she writes the condensed story, an outline in short shory format or point-form, she then goes back and “taffy pulls it” to fill in details, facts etc.

With Appetites, this is the first time I’ve had a clear view of where the story goes and it still feels organic, dude. Yes the story has changed several times, and yes I have questioned whether I still need a character I initially felt was integral to the story, but the basis, the core of the story, has remained the same. I see it as finding the fastest, but most scenic route on a map. The route is ever-changing but the destination, the reason for the journey, stays strong.

I needed some background for Appetites so I started a family tree, of sorts, and the main character’s grandfather featured prominently to the point I considered writing about his journey. The funny thing about creating this history is that it showed me where the plot got too tangled, where ages didn’t line up. While I loved the back story and history, it has been relegated to bits and pieces and not all of it is reliable and some of it I will leave up to the reader to decide.

This inspired me to start my own family tree. There are stories of great, great grandfathers chained to cannons at the bottom of lakes, of connections to famous writers and politicians, of mysterious native blood lines. Sounds like a great novel, doesn’t it? You can see why I’m intrigued.

It’s been a curious trip. I find it amazing how far back one can go, how many generations that feel within reach. I found that 100 years doesn’t feel like that long ago. Consider this, generations one often thinks of as 50-100 years. Not so. From me to my parents is twenty years, forty to my grandparents, sixty to my great grandparents, eighty to my great, great grandparents. Not so long, is it? Seems like we should be able to just call them up, say hello. Problem is, when they lived there were no phones. 1845. Wow.

The other thing I noticed, and this must be the writer in me, I’m transplanting characteristics and faces onto these people I never knew to the point I feel like I did know them. I guess I did/do, after all, parts of them are part of me. We share the same bloodline. I feel like I’m connecting with family.

The flip side of all this is the sobering knowledge that some day, my name will be on that list and some generation of my family will come looking for me, wondering who I was, what I was like, what my world was like.

Oh the stories this one piece of the family tree could tell. Whether they are all true, is up to the reader/listener. 😉


About Dale Long

Writing ambushed me from the shadows. At first I pushed it aside as nonsense, but luckily my wife and two girls saw the potential. Since then I have had an article published by Metroland, placed as runner-up and in the top ten in humour writing contests and various other contests. The icing on the cake was placing as runner-up in the WCDR's Wicked Words contest (130 entries) and having my entry published in the contests anthology of the same name. My entry was an exerpt from my upcoming novel, Echoes.
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10 Responses to Building Trees

  1. sjclarke says:

    What a facinating journey, Dale. I love how you went back to A Novel Approach. When you find something that works for you, stick with it. I’m doing the same thing from the other side…you know – the dark side in plotterville:-)

    • Dale Long says:

      Plotterville… I like it!

      I’m not saying I’ll never plot, but right now it’s not for me. I envy those that have that clear a picture that they can plot.

      Thanks Sandra!

  2. Congrats on gong back to A Novel Approach, Dale! All the best!

  3. patootie says:

    Great post! Congrats on your 1st novel and good luck with your 2nd. I just finished my 2nd, which interrupted me in the middle of my 1st (need to get back to that one), and now I’m working on my 3rd with my 4th and 5th rolling around in my head, screaming to get out. I know exactly what you are talking about when you say you feel like you DID know them. I now have trouble separating the historical facts that I know to be my ancestors and their daily lives that I have now had an intimate relation with. Somehow, though, I feel I was there, even though it was 150 years ago.

    • Dale Long says:

      Congrats right back at you. I haven’t totally given up on my first novel, it won’t let me.

      I totally get feeling like you were there when researching your family tree.

  4. Nate Shenk says:

    A Novel Approach sounds fantastic! I need to look into going to something like that around me. I’ve thought about writing fiction, but I haven’t landed on a good topic yet…hopefully one will hit me because I’d like to give it a go! Anyway, great read, Dale!

    • Dale Long says:

      Thanks Nate. I feel lucky to had such a great writers community and access to such great writing courses and workshops.

      The ideas will come to you when you least expect it. Most of mne came from writing prompts in my writing classes through my local college.

  5. maureenlee says:

    Yes, I can see why you’re intrigued re your family tree, Dale! Maybe in the 2013 Novel Approach, you’ll tackle writing a novel about your “great, great grandfathers chained to cannons at the bottom of lakes, of connections to famous writers and politicians, of mysterious native blood lines.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying reading Appetites, along with the other members of A Novel Approach, but this sounds like it’s crying out to be written by you! Historical novel?Biography? Hey, A Novel Approach offers a course for either treatment. 🙂

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