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.