08 October 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Writing a Novel

Where do you get your ideas? Which comes first, the characters or the plot?
These are two of the questions that people often ask writers.

I remember the moment Lexie, the main character in Still Death, came to my mind – reading a newspaper article outside a cafĂ© on a road trip in New South Wales, Australia. That was four or five years and several other projects ago, but she’s hung since then, and I guess that answers the opening questions.

Originally Lexie was going to be the main character in a different genre, but as I got to know her it was obvious her flaws and character arc needed a different type story. That was where I hit my first problem.

I’d written my earlier novels in a similar way – knowing the end point and outlining the first third to half of the novel. I decided this time I'd plan the entire novel so I wouldn’t get side tracked and waste time.

Oh boy, what a headache that gave me. At heart I believe I’m an outliner/planner, BUT this book just wouldn’t move out of the starting blocks. I spent several weeks trying to force a plot and got nowhere. Eventually I decided to start writing and see where it took me. 

It was scary. There were several times I emailed or met up with a writer friend, our conversations going something like this.

‘I’ve got a scene where this artist woman turns up and has a mysterious meeting with one of the other characters.’
‘Ooh, that sounds good.’
‘But I don’t know who the hell she is, or what part she’s playing.’

‘Lexie’s husband is investigating this mysterious compound, but goodness knows what happens.’

Or simply:
‘Another guy’s turned up dead.’

About halfway through the first draft, I got to a point where it felt as though I was banging my head against the wall with the plot. I knew Lexie inside out and upside down, I knew what decision she’d make in any situation and why, but I couldn’t get traction with the plot.

Then came the light bulb moment. Looking back at it, it was obvious, but often the obvious is difficult to see. One evening when I should have been writing, I read an article that covered the different processes and ways people write novels. As most writers know, there’s the planner, outliner and pantser, but the article went deeper than that – do you start with characters, with a plot or with snapshots of scenes.

My ideas always start with characters. Suddenly I knew where I’d been going wrong. From the beginning I was trying to force a plot. I’d told myself as this was a murder/mystery I HAD to have the plot sorted out, but I don’t write like that and therefore couldn’t plan that way. If my ideas start with characters and they’re character-driven novels, then I have to let the characters drive the plot. It sounds so obvious now, but this was a real breakthrough.

I knew how Lexie thought and how she’d react to situations. I knew her flaws and the things that worried her and the ways she had to grow to become the person she needed to be at the end of the novel. Now I needed to figure out what would get her to that place.

The words didn’t exactly flash out of my fingers at lightning speed, but I could see where I needed to go and what needed to happen – I had a plot! But one that made sense to the characters and their growth.

If you’re interested in reading a little of Still Death, here’s the prologue.

Late May

The woman said goodbye to her friend and left the restaurant, paying no attention to the cars parked along the road. There were always cars, and usually people, although it was quiet at the moment. The restaurants and pubs were busy, but it was too early for anyone to make the move to the clubs a few streets away.

She smiled, remembering the phone calls of the past days. He missed her, couldn’t wait to finish the research on his current story and fly back. Couldn’t wait to see her again.

She’d missed him. He would be back at his apartment by now, working on the story and waiting for her. The previously arranged dinner had been unavoidable, but at least it was over.

Her smile crinkled light lines around her eyes. She glanced at her watch, increased her pace. It only took a few minutes to walk to his flat from here. He’d be waiting for her call, but she’d surprise him.

She didn’t see the man, silent in the shadows. Didn’t hear the few words he muttered into his phone.

Further along, she slowed as she turned to cross the street. A car came around the corner. She stepped out between the parked vehicles and glanced towards the dazzling headlights. The car stopped in the road, engine idling. The same model as his. Perhaps he’d come to pick her up, not wanting to wait any longer. The headlights blinded her. She squinted, trying to make out the driver or the registration number.

The car engine revved, tyres squealed, as it hurtled towards her. No time to move or call out. The car rammed into her. Knocked the breath out of her body. Tossed her onto the road like a limp rag doll. The frown of uncertainty still creased her forehead.

A trickle of blood seeped from the corner of her mouth, dribbled down her cheek and onto the road. The car roared away. The man checked there was no one around. He approached the woman and crouched down. Watched the light fade from her eyes then made another phone call.

Still Death will be available from 8th November, but you can pre-order it from Amazon.  After the launch it will be $2.99 but at the moment you can pre-order it for 99 cents.

No comments:

Post a Comment