Novel Approaches

Posted in On writing, Writers at 10:23 am by Marion

I climbed onto the couch (with our 95-pound Walker, Mayberry) to read, and found myself racing to the end of Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. It was a day of little activity, as we largely recovered from the merriment of the holidays and a visit with the ‘rents in my hometown including a day with my niece, who’s 5.

Rebecca has long been a personal classic. I read it quite young, about 8 years old (I know) then read it again and again throughout grammar school just to experience those moments of fear, joy and mystery, each reading offering more revelations to my still immature eyes. Whether it was growing up in the isolated country, or just my young, romantic bent, that book and its twin, Jane Eyre, formed the bedrock of my grammar school reading.


Reading Rebecca as an adult gave me new hope for completing my own novel. Having read so many Russian writers in the past few years — Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak — I envisioned the novel as a long, exhaustive summary of every detail in a character’s life, every turn of plot, every sunrise and winter storm.

Likewise, my own novel, “The Curing Season,” grew in my mind, became more complex, with plot tendrils reaching into every dark place of mind and character. When I sat to update an outline last year, I found that for all its big intentions, there was very little to move it forward. Few moments between characters, little accounting for day-to-day episodes.

Rebecca showed me how to write a great book in a manageable form. It is complex, dramatic, rich — but also moves forward at every turn, seamlessly.

Reading this novel again showed me how one finds stepping stones through a great book. Given infinite ability, one can spent infinite time getting across the river. Given finite ability, as I suspect is true for me, I will spot the big rocks and step forward on them, hoping to capture some of the foamy, roiling river beneath me.


  1. Gene-o said,

    December 29, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Love the post and the “crossing the river” analogy. Another example of this is “The Yearling.” Marjorie Kinan Rawlings was not a born writer; she struggled at her craft — and produced what is, in my little opinion, a perfect novel.

  2. Marion said,

    December 30, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I have not read “The Yearling,” but consider this recommendation highly. I wonder about those writers who create with ease: do they really exist? Or, do we all struggle to write a thing of beauty and interest? even Scott Fitzgerald rewrote everything, several times. Hemingway, too, would go through his manuscripts and remove every word or sentence he didn’t find essential.

    He said he removed as much as possible, then reviewed to see if the whole remained despite the missing parts. In many cases, he said, the whole was larger and better.

  3. Gene-o said,

    December 31, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Maybe you could weigh in with some words about Kerouac, who wrote without editing. Was writing “easy” for him?

    Joyce Carol Oates — the great, the prolific! — would seem to find writing easy, since she does so much of it. But she has said that it is a great struggle, not only the writing but the editing.

    Does it come easily to any writer? I can see it coming naturally, but easily? Interesting question.