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.

The Notebook Writing Notes

I began the novel in July 1994, working in the evenings and one day on the weekends, and the first, rough draft was completed in December. The first draft was approximately 80,000 words, and I began cutting the story down, doing my best to make it as efficient as possible. That took another couple of months. The final version was approximately 47,000 words.

Why did I cut so much? The story itself was a simple one: only two main characters, two principle settings, and the story only covered a few days in their lives. To have kept the book at 80,000 words would have slowed the story to a crawl without making it any more interesting, and I wanted a story where the pages turned quickly.

I’ll give you one example of the cutting, since many people ask about that. Toward the beginning of the novel, Noah mentions a book of poetry he’d carried with him in the war. In the first draft, I’d described an exciting “war” scene, complete with Noah getting caught behind enemy lines, disobeying orders, and heading back to find the book, only to get caught in a fire-fight, etc. It ran four pages, but after reading through the draft, I knew the scene was too long, since it was tangential to the primary story. I first cut the scene to three pages, then two, and finally got it down to a page. Yet, after additional readings, I still thought it was too long. It went from four paragraphs to three, then to two, and I finally got the scene down to a single paragraph. Pretty good cutting, right? After re-reading again, I still thought it was too long. It went from four sentences to three, three to two, then two to one.

The final sentence read, “It (meaning the book of poetry) had once taken a bullet for him.”

Another interesting thing about the novel was the order in which I wrote it. I wrote the final chapter, “Winter for Two” first; I wrote the middle section after that. The last pages I wrote were the first five pages of the novel, the chapter entitled “Miracles.”

I wrote in this way for a couple of reasons: First, I knew I wanted the ending of the story to be poignant and heartfelt, and second, because I didn’t know if I would be able to do that, since my previous novels hadn’t been good enough to publish. If I couldn’t do it, I didn’t want to waste my time writing the rest of the novel, knowing it would collapse at the end. Once I was satisfied with the end, I went back and wrote the bulk of the story. I wrote the first five pages last because I knew those would take a lot of time and had to be perfect to get the attention of an agent right away.

The major challenge in the novel took place toward the end of the novel. At that point, Allie didn’t remember Noah and Noah wouldn’t tell her who he was, because that usually upset her. Because of these two facts, they could talk about neither the past, nor the future, yet their conversations had to lead them to fall in love. And the reader had to feel them falling in love, as it was happening, and it had to be a legitimate feeling, not forced, since evoking genuine empathy is necessary in a love story. It wasn’t easy and required a great deal of thought and effort to get it just right.

On a more trivial note: the names Noah and Allie were chosen because poetry played a large role in the story, and I wanted names that rolled off the tongue.

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