I was volunteering at my daughter's school a few weeks ago, and one of the other moms, Lisa, asked me what I did for a living. I told her I was a writer. She kind of looked at me funny, like she misunderstood what I said. Like I told her I was a funeral director or something. You don't meet many of those, well at least I don't.
"What do you write?" she asked.
"Romantic women's fiction and sweet Regency romance**." She didn't know what that genre was, so I explained it to her. We talked a little bit more of the history, and then she asked, "So, how do you do it? Do you just sit down at the computer and write?"
I had to laugh. I mean, really. Sure that's what I do, but there's so much more to it than that. I briefly explained that I first take notes, outline my plot, do some research, develop my characters a little bit (because I'm more of a pantster than a plotter and I like to let my characters unfold on the page) and then decide on the structure of the novel.
"Structure," she said. "What's that?"
So I proceeded to tell her that structuring a novel is like building a house. Without the foundation (the above mentioned notes, outline, character sketch) you've got nothing to build on. Once you have the foundation, then you can build up from there, walls, ceilings, floors, levels, until you hit the roof, which is basically the end.
"So then you just sit down and write?"
"More or less," I said. "But I also have to decide what kind of structure I'm going to use. Some houses are two stories, some three or more, there are also log cabins, condos, ranch style, walk-ups, tudor, salt box, etc. I need to decide how many acts will be written (3 or 5), if there will be more narrative or dialogue, chapter titles or numbers, how many pages each chapter will be, how many climaxes per scene if any, per act, where to build the tension, when to release it, and where and when I'll start to build to the final scene and denoument."
She said, "So there's obviously more to writing a book than just sitting down at the computer and banging out words."
"Yes," I said. "It's not easy, and building a novel sometimes takes as long as building a house. It's a commitment."
"Yeah," she said. "I can see that. That's why I don't read. I just can't make that kind of commitment."
What do you say to something like that?
(** as Anne Gallagher)