The Wedding Writing Notes

The Wedding, while written relatively quickly, was exceptionally challenging when it came to the structure. There were, in essence, seven different levels of the story occurring simultaneously, and the difficulty arose in trying to blend them seamlessly together in such a way as to never confuse the reader. Two of the levels are obvious. The first concerns Wilson and how he courts Jane while preparing for the wedding – i.e. the “love story.” The second level concerns the preparation for the wedding itself. These first two primary levels were easy to conceive and write; it was the other five sub-levels that presented problems. Those were as follows:

First, the reader needed to understand what brought Wilson and Jane to this sad point in their marriage; i.e. the reader needed to feel the thirty years of “innocent neglect” as Wilson termed it. I needed to describe various significant events that had occurred over the course of their marriage or the story wouldn’t make sense.

Second, problems in a thirty-year marriage can’t realistically be fixed in a single week; thus, another level had to do with changes Wilson had been making since their last anniversary. The reader needed to see Wilson making honest efforts at improving his marriage for at least a year. In this way, Jane – and the reader—would realize Wilson was serious about changing.

Third, if the reader only knew Wilson’s faults over the period of their marriage, they might wonder why Jane had fallen in love with him in the first place. Thus, another level dealt with how Wilson and Jane had originally met and fallen in love.

From there, I had to run parallels from that original “courting” story to the week spent in preparation for the wedding. This helps to flesh out the novel by creating a sense of déjà vu, and help build dramatic tension.

Finally, since the novel was a follow-up to The Notebook, Noah had to have a story as well, one that paralleled The Notebook; i.e. unconditional love, and the magic of seeing their love last through anything.

In essence then, there were seven levels in the novel:

  Level 1—Wilson courting Jane over the course of a week
  Level 2 – Preparations for the wedding
  Level 3 – How Wilson and Jane originally courted.
  Level 4 – Description of their 30 year marriage and Wilson’s “innocent neglect.”
  Level 5 – Wilson’s attempts to improve the marriage in the past year
  Level 6 – Parallels between original courting and new courting.
  Level 7 – Noah’s story

Anytime there are seven different levels in a short novel, complexity becomes an issue. Yet, the novel was made even more complex by the fact that each of the levels had to be told in a linear fashion and flow together as a single story. By that, I mean, each level had to have it’s own beginning, middle and end, and each level had to fit into the overall story in an appropriate way. Getting the balance just right was especially challenging, because I didn’t want the reader to notice the distinctness of these levels, but rather wanted them to read the novel as a whole.

Another difficulty arose from the fact that because Wilson and Jane had been married for thirty years, I couldn’t let the reader “learn” about Wilson and Jane through dialogue. Jane couldn’t, for instance, ask Wilson whether he had any siblings, or what his hobbies were. People married for thirty years often speak in short-hand; thus, I had to find a way to let the reader get to understand the characters without “get-to-know you” dialogue, and I had to structure the remaining “short-hand” dialogue in a way that it felt as if the reader was in the room “listening in” and still understanding exactly what was happening.

Still, despite the challenges, the writing proceeded relatively smoothly; there were only two rough spots. Halfway through the book, I realized that the story of Wilson and Jane’s original courting wasn’t linear; rather, it was a jumbled set of memories. Originally, I’d written the story of their first meeting and their first date, talked about their marriage, went back to the first kiss they’d ever shared, jumped forward to having children, went back to the marriage proposal, went backward again to Wilson’s final year in law school, then jumped forward again to half-way through their marriage. Each of those scenes had originally been intricately woven into the novel, and I had to remove them, reorder them, then change them to “fit” the scenes going on around them. That, my friends, is the beauty of fiction. I’m allowed to make things “fit.” Still, it wasn’t exactly easy to do.

The second challenge was coming up with something wonderfully romantic that Wilson could do for Jane on their “date.” It had to be big enough for readers to believe it had been the “anniversary gift’ he’d been planning for a year, but also had to fit within the events of the story. Believe it or not, simply thinking up that evening took nearly two weeks.

Once the novel was completed, editing was minor. It took less than a week to complete the editing process.

Nights in Rodanthe Writing Notes

It had been in my mind for some time to write another short love story, a story that harkens back to the poignant emotional intensity of The Notebook. I suppose I’d been thinking about it since I was working on The Rescue, but as much as I tried, the pieces just didn’t seem to come together. In all love stories, there has to be an element that keeps the characters apart in order to create drama, and throughout the course of my career, I’ve tried never to use the same element twice. Thus, it gets progressively harder and harder to write new novels, but in the end, it’s what makes a story memorable. If I don’t have the “conflict,” I don’t have the story, and for the life of me, I couldn’t come up with something new to keep the characters apart.

I also wanted to write a story using characters at mid-life because it’s something I haven’t done (with the exception of The Notebook, in which they’re elderly, not middle-aged). It’s a great age to write about, simply because so many family elements can come into play between the characters. People at that age are being pulled by their children (who are becoming adults) and their parents (who might be in need of additional assistance), both of which create realistic obstacles to new relationships.
Yet, as I said, for a long time, the story didn’t seem to want to come together.

In the meantime, I wrote A Bend in the Road and the first draft of The Guardian. The Guardian was a tremendous challenge for a number of reasons. I won’t go into those here, other than to say that the first editorial letter was the most disheartening letter I’d ever received from my editor. It was obvious that The Guardian would require a great deal of re-writing, but I was tired of working on the story and needed a break from it.

My mind then returned to the story I’d been thinking about, and suddenly everything began to click. Within days, I suddenly knew exactly how to tell the story. I knew the characters, the setting, and especially and most importantly, the “conflict” that would keep the characters apart.

I then had a choice of which novel I wanted to publish first—do I go back to work on The Guardian, or do I write the new story that eventually became Nights in Rodanthe?
Because I had no doubt that I could have either story ready by September, there were a number of business decisions that came into play in making the final decision. I looked at the “pattern” of my novels, and noticed that I tended to follow a long book with a short book, and I thought it best to keep that pattern. The Rescue was long, A Bend in the Road was long, and The Guardian was long, which meant that Nights in Rodanthe would more than likely be short. I thought it would be best to publish a shorter novel in between those three long ones, and that favored writing Nights in Rodanthe.

There was also the fact that although The Guardian is a wonderful and exciting book, it was different in that it had a “dangerous” element to the story. Though I was confident that everyone would enjoy the novel, I didn’t want my readers to think I’d strayed too far from the type of novels that I originally wrote. Many authors do exactly that—stray too far—and lose readers in the long run for doing so. Again, that realization favored the writing of Nights in Rodanthe, which in many ways—characters, settings, structure, etc.—is similar to my original novel, The Notebook. I wanted my original readers to know that I hadn’t forgotten that they were the ones primarily responsible for my success, and I wanted to give them a novel that I knew they would enjoy.

But it was mid-December and the book was due in February. The question then became whether or not I could finish the novel in time. I made the decision to give it a try.
Thankfully, most of the novel came off without a hitch. I worked five days a week, and wrote a couple of thousand words each day. By the end of January, I had completed 75% of the novel but I hit a snag regarding the structure. After coming up with an original idea, structure is always the most difficult part of crafting a love story.

The problem was this: as the story was structured, I knew that Paul and Adrienne separated about three quarters of the way through the novel, but Paul had promised that he’d be back in a year and that they would be together after that. I also knew that I wanted the novel to not be much longer and everything up until the point of their separation was written with that in mind. It was also obvious—from the very beginning of the story—that Paul and Adrienne never got back together. The reason, of course, was because Paul had died (and I knew that from the very beginning), yet because Adrienne was telling the story to her daughter, there’s no doubt that “where is he?” would be one of the first questions Amanda asked.

To sustain the suspense, however, I couldn’t let the reader know what happened for about the first quarter of the novel. The reason I had to keep the suspense that long was simple: once the reader finds out what happens to Paul, the conclusion of the book is anti-climactic. To keep the story moving, I simply couldn’t provide the answer to that question right away. Nor could I simply have ended the story a few pages after he’d left the house, or the novel would fail on a structural level.

Now, pages and page of “stalling” is actually quite hard to do in short novel. As I worked through that final section, one page at a time, I honestly felt as if I were on a “tight-rope.” Could I make it to the other end? I didn’t know, yet I had to, or the novel would be lost. If you glance through those pages, you’ll notice that I covered Adrienne’s opinion about her house, what had happened in the last fourteen years—including aspects of her job and her relationship with her former husband, what had happened in the immediate aftermath of Paul leaving the house in Rodanthe, letters, conversations… and, of course, it all had to flow and seem perfectly natural, so that the suspense continued to build. Let’s just say that it was a whole lot harder to do than it probably seemed to the reader. But in the end, I think it worked and I was pleased how the final section had come out.
The other major problem had to do with how to tell the reader that Paul had died. In a conversation? In a phone call? I made attempts at both of those, but neither seemed to be create the emotional intensity I desired. In the end, I came to the decision to use a letter, as I had in some of my previous novels. While you may think that using a letter from Mark had always been planned, it wasn’t. In fact, I struggled with what to do for a few days, until the obvious came to mind.

The Rescue Writing Notes

The novel’s main character, Denise Holton, was a blend of my wife and myself. Her hopes and fears about her son Kyle are accurately portrayed and drawn from our own experiences. This was my most personal novel, in many ways, and the most challenging to write.

The challenge didn’t stem from the portrayal of Denise’s relationship with Kyle. Instead, it had to do with the pacing and structure of the novel. When I was halfway through the writing of the novel, I was struck with a major case of writer’s block.

The problem had to do with the relationship between Denise and Taylor, and for a long time, I didn’t know how to handle it. In the novel, the progression of their relationship from their first conversation at the corner store to falling in love covered approximately seventy pages. That part was fine. But from there, because of Taylor’s internal conflicts, I had to dissolve the relationship. I understood that part, too. The problem was that I had to dissolve the relationship in roughly the same number of pages as the relationship had taken to build, and to do this even though neither character wanted it to happen and while both of them still loved each other. At the same time, it had to seem perfectly natural and plausible.

It was a tremendous challenge. The buildup and dissolution had to be about the same number of pages because of pacing and its effect on the overall quality of the novel. If the dissolution happened too quickly, the reader would question whether Taylor and Denise had ever been in love or if it was simply an infatuation. Had there been an obvious reason for the dissolution, Taylor’s character would lack coherence and it wouldn’t be consistent with the central crisis in his character, “the inability to commit.” Had either of them wanted it to happen, Taylor’s character wouldn’t make sense.

I remember reaching that point in the novel, my hands hovering over the keyboard, and simply stopping. I figured I’d think about it for a day or so and the answer would come.
But the day turned into a few days, then a week. Then a couple of weeks. Then a month. Then another month. By then, I was getting worried. Nothing I considered would seem to work and I’d thrown out hundreds of ideas.

My agent was the one who finally helped come up with the answer. How we solved the problem was to work backwards in the story. The last step in the dissolution was the break-up, that was obvious. But what was the immediate preceding event that led to it? Taylor hurt Kyle’s feelings in some way, though he hadn’t meant to, and Denise can’t live with that. What did he do? He’d promised to take Kyle to a baseball game for his birthday and didn’t show up. Why didn’t he show up? He swears it was an honest mistake. But Denise knows it’s more than that because? A few days earlier, Taylor didn’t drive her into work either. Why didn’t he do that? Because. . .
We worked it all the way back to the point in the novel where I was stuck, and once I had the general idea of how it was all going to happen, I was able to start writing again. I finished the novel within a few weeks.

On a lighter note, most of the names mentioned in the novel are names of friends of mine in the town where I live. For instance, Taylor McAden comes from the names of the Taylors and the McAdens. Carl, Rhonda, Kim, Ray, Melissa, Bart. . . all names of friends. Denise was named after the producer of Message in a Bottle, and she is also a friend.

A Walk To Remember Writing Notes

In writing this novel, there were a few challenges, though the actual work proceeded more smoothly than it had in previous novels. In some ways, the story seemed almost inspired, and I not only enjoyed the writing process, but sometimes I was even surprised by the turns the story took.

The major challenge lay in blending of spirituality into the text. Though faith is a powerful element of my own life, when I set out to write a novel, I am guided by the simple thought of writing a story that most people will enjoy. Since religion and faith vary greatly among my readers, it was difficult to write such a story with a balance that wouldn’t offend anyone. Nor did I want to preach to anyone. That’s not the purpose of a novel.

The reason I wanted to include a spiritual element in the book was simple: This was a story of the beauty, power and innocence of first love. The characters were young and on a personal level (one defined by my own morals and values), I wanted these two kids to be deeply in love, yet without the physical intimacy that normally accompanies such deep love. In other words, I didn’t want them to engage in pre-marital sex, and though my other novels have included that element (I do write love stories), had I done that with two young people, a great many readers would have been offended.

That was also the reason I set the novel in the 1950s. I always want my novels to be believable, and back then, things were different.
I also wanted the novel to show the power of faith. Ironically, in setting out to write about first love (which I did), I created a strong redemptive element in the novel. I suppose that came from Jamie’s faith, and though it wasn’t intended, I think by the end, redemption was one of the more powerful elements of the novel.
As with The Notebook, the prologue was written last.

A Walk to Remember was also a novel in which the ending changed before my very eyes. As for the ending itself and what really happened, it’s probably the most frequently asked question I receive though the mail. “Did Jamie live or die?” If you want to know, see FAQs about A Walk to Remember.

On a final note, A Walk to Remember was picked up by the Christian Book Club, Crossings, as well as Scholastic. It is appropriate for children twelve and up.

Message in a Bottle Writing Notes

The novel was written during two periods, spring and summer 1996 and spring of 1997. In between, I went on a major book tour for The Notebook and was largely away from home for months at a time. With so many interviews and signings, I had no time to work on it.

When I was about halfway through with the novel (early spring 1997), my agent suggested that we send what was written, along with a detailed outline for the remaining half of the novel, to my agents in Hollywood for presentation to various studios. My agent suggested we change the title from Letters to Catherine to Message in a Bottle, since my original title sounded too much like a correspondence. They ended up being right. It was sold in that as-yet incomplete form to Warner Brothers, with Denise DiNovi producing. I finished the first draft of the novel in June 1997. The final editing was complete by August 1997, and the novel was released the following spring.

The novel didn’t need much major work with the exception of trimming, and the first draft was fairly close to the final product. The one major issue I dealt with during the editing process was making Catherine, the deceased wife, a more integral part of the novel. In the first draft, she was largely a shadowy figure and my editor felt we needed to “breathe life into her ghost” for the novel to take on a richer meaning. To do that, I added various snippets of their life together in memory form, and worked those into the narrative. These snippets had to tell a story as well, and I decided to add in the fact that Catherine was pregnant when she died, which made Garrett’s grief all that much more understandable. I also added a couple of dreams, to more fully explore their relationship.

A couple of small, yet interesting points: Theresa was named after my agent, Theresa Park, then of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (she left in 2005 to start her own agency, The Park Literary Group). Catherine is the name of my wife. One of the dates in the letters is the date of my wedding anniversary. Garrett’s name was chosen with care, because Theresa had to be able to find him in a city the size of Wilmington (100,000) based on limited knowledge. The name couldn’t be too common, or too strange. “Garrett” seemed to fit the bill. Deanna was named after a friend who wanted her name in a novel.

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