The Anatomy of a Novel (Finch)

So I went through the notes and rough draft materials for my new novel, Finch, today. What lurks behind those leather walls? Let’s find out…

Imagine–an entire world contained in such a narrow space…

Assembled: notecards with individual fragments of dialogue, phrases, ideas; more formalized bullet point character and story notes already typed up; partial rough draft scenes housed in notebooks; additional notes on the inside of a folder; and the thick, black cover of the moleskin tome in which I tend to do more rapacious and complete rough drafts.

I like to scrawl on the insides of folders, like the contrast of black ink with green, for example. Whenever whatever I’m writing on is covered in text, inside and out, I feel immersed in the novel. Interestingly, that top notecard was originally meant for another novel entirely, but has become repurposed. “Ethan Bliss” is the name of a fellow player on my high school soccer team. I’ve wanted to use the name for years.

On the left, you see an actual typed draft of the first few pages, which may be old now (still checking it over), and then two different yet complementary styles of notebook–the rich, swirled black velvet of an oversized one that gives me enough room to write in my left-handedness, and then to the far right torn out pages from an illustrator’s pad. I like paper that’s meant for art sometimes, especially if it means a very long page with the binding horizontal rather than vertical.

Sometimes there are tangential benefits to re-starting a novel. Here, I found my old wallet, for example…

And, oh my god, it’s a map of Ambergris! Something I probably won’t adhere to or use. I used it initially for positioning purposes, for the context of an Ambergris several hundred years after the last time period I wrote about.

So that’s the current anatomy of my novel, Finch. About 20,000 words of really excellent third draft, about 10,000 words of incomplete rough drafts, about 200 notecards, and another 20 to 40 torn-out pages, along with 40 pages of bullet point typed up notes and observations. Eventually, it will be a sharp-looking trade paperback with a Ben Templesmith cover. Right now, though, it’s in somewhat less holistic form…

26 comments on “The Anatomy of a Novel (Finch)

  1. Network Geek says:

    After the book is written, what do you do with the notes? Do they reside forever in individually sanctified leather briefcases? Do you move them to some arcane archival storage medium? Ritually burn them? Inquiring minds want to know!

  2. Ha! They all go in the same storage box. I do sometimes like to go back and see the layering that occurs.

  3. I don’t think I could afford to sanctify them in similar briefcases. That thing is like $250!! It’s supposed to last a lifetime.

  4. donnie says:

    Wow! This is very interesting. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a writer’s work in progress. It’s absolutely fascinating. The map is cool too. I’m looking forward to Finch. I recently re-read Shriek and learned a whole lot more the second time around. I wonder how many people get the Nabokov reference. I think I also picked up on a character that reminded me of the guy in Baron in the Trees. I like how you give props to your influences like that. Creative.

  5. Sir Tessa says:

    The red notebook is “WOW”.


  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Actually, there’s no nod to the guy in Baron, although I like that book. I don’t really give many props to influences in Shriek. Nabokov’s Ada and Richard Grant’s Views from the Furthest House (sic) are definite influences I was riffing off of, though.

  7. donnie says:

    Oh, I see. I thought that the character Sirin–I think that’s his name–was influenced by Nabokov because he collects butterflies. My bad.

  8. milly says:

    all the stuff in the briefcase looks awesome, and so does the briefcase. that’s a bam! briefcase. awesome.

  9. Transfiguring Roar says:

    Do you have a rough idea of how big this novel will end up being, Jeff? Or is it too early to say?

  10. Radish says:

    I have a similar briefcase – all leather and shining brass, and showing a bit of mileage – that I use carry my laptop and cellulose and scrawling tools.

    When I last went through mine [a month ago] I found my long lost iPod and ear-buds. [That’ll learn me, huh.]

  11. Nadine says:

    Posts like this make me happy, although they encapsulate what I am doing wrong. *wg* ORGANISATION IS NOT MY FRIEND.

  12. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Donnie: Nope, you’re right. I totally forgot about that because I’m ‘tarded! LOL!

  13. Eric says:


    You said it will make a nice trade paperback. Any plans for a hardcover edition? I love the harcover editions of your other books.


  14. There might be a limited hardcover at some future point. But the truth is–I sell best in trade paperback and it would be a risk to put me out in hardcover considering Underland is, although entering the market at a high level, a new publisher. A risk for them. In trade paperback, considering City and Shriek sales, it’s pretty certain it’ll do well for them. I also prefer to have something more affordable.


  15. susie says:

    i love seeing artists’ and authors’ sketches and notes.

    “that’s the current anatomy of my novel”

    oh. you should collage the scraps into puppets representing the personalities of each novel, then have your books battle it out on a punch-and-judy stage. AWESOME, right?

    …ok, it’s not awesome , but for a brief moment i enjoyed a wonderful mental image.

  16. LOL! That’d go on the “for when I’m not very busy” list.

  17. Jelly Road says:

    Love the pictures of your work in progress! Inspiring.

    I’m a screenwriter, but am going to put my next screenplay in novel form to flesh out the characters a bit by seeing what they’ll do in different situations. Who knows what kinds of twists they’ll lead me into.

    This will be my first attempt at a novel and I’m excited to see how it plays out. Love your site and will check back to see how your novel is coming along.

    Jelly Road

  18. Jelly Road says:

    I just now realized that this was posted in 2008. I guess I’d better check the newer posts to find out where to purchase your book. LOL

    Jelly Road

  19. Lexine says:

    It’s great to read something that’s both ejynobale and provides pragmatisdc solutions.

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