Wednesday, 13 November 2019

How did this happen?

Can someone please explain how I seem to be writing a Christmas novella that is a prequel to a series that I haven't written yet?

Writers are weird.

A. I am not supposed to be writing anything at all. I'm supposed to be doing preparation for my PhD Viva which is approaching far faster than it ought to be.

B. If I was 'writing' I have a completed half edited book and two half written manuscripts that come first in the queue.

C. How can this be a prequel to an unwritten series? I know. I can hear you saying it. If the series isn't written, then why isn't it just the first, not a prequel? I don't KNOW. It just is.

It's driving me nuts, but in a fun way. I told you - weird.

You see I had this idea, and as it wasn't going away, I decided to write a bit until it stopped. So far it hasn't, but I am going to have to pull the plug on it imminently. Hah!

I blame reading too many Christmas books. I ordered a raft of them from the library, ready for festive reading, and they all arrived much earlier than I expected.

A writer's mind is a very strange place.


Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Theatrical Inspiration

Having shaken loose, at least temporarily, from my academic bondage - although preperation for the forthcoming viva has to begin this week - I have been indulging myself with a few trips to the theatre. Writers can get inspiration from other writers and I always find it interesting to watch how dramatists have done their thing. So - what have I learned from four productions?

The Mousetrap - vintage, but still going strong, the current tour visited Cardiff and I enjoyed the performance. What did it offer a writer? Suspense, and red herrings, from a mistress of the art. Agatha Christie knew what she was doing. I'm going to see Witness for the Prosecution in a few weeks time - it will be interesting to see how the two compare. Classic detective whodunnit against court room drama.

Midsummer Night's Dream, the current Watermill tour. If it's Shakespeare it has to be the poetry. A play full of words and all about the power and madness of love. What more could a romantic novelist ask?

Frankenstein - now this was an unknown quantity, a new play by Rona Munroe, which I saw on Halloween. It told the story of the book, but included the original author, Mary Shelley, in the production. It was an intriguing concept, and Mary's struggles to get he characters to behave, to make connecting bridges between the scenes she had tumbling through her mind, and frightening herself with what she had imagined and called into being, in the monster, were very familiar.

Cyrano de Bergerac, at Bristol Old Vic. I'd not been to the theatre since it had a major revamp, so it was interesting to see the results and try and fit what was there now with how it used to be. The play - love, poetry, swordplay and swashbuckling, a damaged hero, and a poignantly tragic ending. Not one I would have written as I am firmly wedded to the HEA, and my publisher expects it, but still a masterclass in love and the tension that accompanies it. And I have not given up the idea of finishing that Georgian smuggling story I have lurking in a drawer.   

Four very different plays, but I got something from all of them, which I hope will inspire future writing.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Absolute power?

One of the plus sides of being an author is the power to re-arrange aspects of the world in the way you want them. My particular favourite is the weather. If you want snow, or rain, or a long hot summer, you can have it. (I tend to go for the latter, personally) You do have to observe some natural laws, of course. Snow in the UK in July might be pushing it a bit.

Geography can be a little more tricky. You can invent your own, or interfere with what really exists, but the reader has to be prepared to go with you on that. Willing suspension of disbelief. Some things are difficult. Moving mountains around, having the whole of the south of England covered in forest, that sort of thing. There is only so much latitude for invention. I'm currently incubating a Welsh Village that doesn't appear on any maps, which is a lot of fun, but it will have to be based in an element of reality. Sort of, says she, blithely. We'll have to see how that turns out.

Time, unless you are writing time slip, is not really to be messed with. If it takes two hours to make a car journey, for instance, there is no way you are going to get the heroine there any faster. History can be difficult to re-organise too.  Maybe some jiggling at the edges, conflation of events, a little reorganising of the order on occasion. But it is going to be hard to reschedule the battle of Hastings to 1067, however much you want to.

If you are into supernatural, paranormal or fairy tale, then things are a lot more fluid, but even there things have to make a certain sense, at least within the story itself.

This power thing occurred to me last week when I  reorganised the train timetable to suit my convenience. I discovered I'd managed to have my hero on a journey running backwards from the route he would have taken - a salutary reminder that you really do have to check everything. Something had to be done, so for once engineering works came to the rescue. I shut the line he was on for emergency work and sent him across country on an alternative route, to get him where I wanted him to be. Maybe it wasn't the way the train company would have organised it, but it was plausible, so hopefully that is enough to get by. Took a bit of figuring out, mind you. With power comes responsibility.

It's power, but it does have to make sense. The reader has to be able to accept what you have done.

But I do love having control over the weather.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Keeping up with your characters

A couple of tweets this week from two big name authors, bewailing the fact that the characters from their Works in Progress have not lost the plot, but simply run off with it, got me pondering about what goes on inside a writer's head. Many writers will tell you a similar story, of protagonists who refuse to co-operate, doing  their own thing, disappearing  into the distance, sometimes running, often laughing ... It's an occupational hazard.

But -  the big problem is, although the characters feel as if they have an independent existence, and wills of their own, they all actually originate with the author. It is a totally disconcerting, but fascinating realisation. Clearly the mind has it all worked out, because the characters' independent adventures usually work out in the end.  The weird thing they did on page 40 suddenly makes sense on page 192.

How does that happen? I really wish I knew. There is probably material there for a scientific study.Or is there? If the author doesn't know, can anyone else find out? Presumably it's all to do with the subconscious mind, which apparently has a heap of rich independent stuff going on.  This is presumably where murder, mayhem and villainous villains originate, which is the disconcerting bit. I'm not sure, but I'm wondering if this is also where the problem of characters' names comes from. Sometimes you just know that a character is not right, and it turns out that they have been labouring under the wrong name. Or the supporting character who grows and grows and attempts to take over the story. I haven't had that problem personally, yet, but I know friends who have been forced to promise them their own book, just to keep them quiet. It's all very mysterious.

I'm not doing any original writing at the moment, other than my homework for evening class - more of that anon, as they say. I'm currently mostly sorting out chaos left over from months concentrating on the PhD, with some revising and editing of something I hope will be going to the publisher early in the new year. When I start writing again I will try and make a note of what is going on with plot and characters. I strongly suspect it will remain a mystery though.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Tangling with the facts

Most writers will tell you they LOVE research. Well, who wouldn't, if it involves holidays - sorry - research trips - or maybe having lunch with an expert on something, even an afternoon going down all the rabbit holes on the Internet on your chosen subject - you can call it work and it doesn't involve, you know, actually writing anything. What better way of spending a wet afternoon than exploring rabbit holes on unknown poisons and the price of body bags - the stuff that is going to look really good on your browsing history if the police/your nearest and dearest, ever have occasion to look at it.

That's one of the problems with research - it's seductive. You can so easily get carried away with something that you didn't know you wanted to know, or that you will never use - probably. Although you always justify yourself with the excuse that it will make a book, someday. (At the moment my somedays are probably going to involve living, and writing, until at least 110.) There is also the special law of diminishing use, that applies to most research. The more you have, the less you actually use. Restraint is the key here, otherwise you get the infamous info dump. We've probably all read that book where the author has done the research and you are going to know about it. All of it. In detail. Although, in fact, when you encounter one of those it should really be cherished, as an Awful Warning.  Sadly you have to choose - three days research will give you maybe two lines or three nicely spaced facts in the final manuscript.  But you did have the fun of that wet afternoon on the Internet.

The other peril author research is hoarding. I have a very large bag, and a drawer, full of interesting snippets that took my fancy. Also extracts and bookmarks on the computer that might one day come in handy. Some of them are hallmarked for an actual manuscript, a lot are in the someday category - see above. I really must go through them to see what is in there. Maybe there's even the makings of a book. And you know that thing, about the police looking at your browsing history - well, it's got me wondering about a cosy crime. But I don't write cosy crime.

See what I mean - seductive.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Accidental Alphas

If you are considering a possible ingredients list for a romantic suspense, an alpha hero is definitely on it The makings of a classic alpha usually involve the guy's job - the military, some variety of law enforcement, black ops, a private organisation that provides specialist security services ... All those are catnip for a romantic suspense writer. A hero with an unusual skill set, who can look after himself and, if necessary, the heroine, who has an edge to him, possibly a troubled or murky past, but is still ultimately one of the good guys. Like I said, catnip, and somewhere I really want to go back to.

I have to say though, that the last romantic suspense, What Happens at Christmas, and the two new drafts that are at present warming up on the runway, do not have classic alpha heroes. For reasons of plot,I seem to have got into a run of what might be called accidental alphas - guys who have found themselves in situations that call for something way beyond their regular comfort zone. 

I must admit that I have found it a bit disconcerting, as I have always considered the alpha hero a given. Without a hero who is law enforcement or whatever, the author has to work harder to establish credibility. With Drew from WHAC that came in the reckless stunts he throws himself into, in the name of research. In draft mark two, the hero knows he is putting himself in danger because ... No, I'm not telling you why, it'll spoil the plot. The guy I am having the most trouble with is Ethan, the hero of what will probably the next suspense, which at the moment is called Where Were You That Night? He's a reclusive musician, and there is a definite streak of Beauty and the Beast in there, but he is not your regular alpha. I'm still not quite sure where he came from and what he and I are doing together. He does come with a lot of baggage though. And you know I love baggage. I think we may be looking at tormented, rather than alpha, this time around. Can I do that? I hope so. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Going Back to the Compost Heap

One of the most useful pieces of practical advice, that is often given about writing, is to let a piece of work compost for a bit, before doing anything else with it. I've always tried to do that, even if, when I was working, that was only the space of the time it took to boil the kettle or make a phone call.

At the moment though, I have composting at extreme ends of the scale. I am going back to work that was done BWT - Before Writing-up Thesis, which means it is edging into over a year since I last touched it. This is quite interesting, as there is stuff there that I don't remember at all. I also have trouble reading my writing, which adds an element of exciting discovery to the process. Some of the pages are a bit like those letters described in Regency romances where the writer did not want to pay to post two sheets of paper so has written all round the edges. And then there are the cryptic notes that say 'insert' with a choice of two or three lines that are supposed to go in. But in what order? It must have made sense at the time ...

On the large level, things have clearly been working in the back of the brain, however. At the moment the WIP is editing the next rom-com, provisionally titled A Wedding on the Riviera. There are several plot lines in there which I know I want to change, which have clearly refined themselves during the gap.

Possibly the most interesting of all is what will probably be the next romantic suspense. Quite a lot of the beginning is written, and I have taken it to a RNA Chapter workshop and got favourable feedback, but the end was always a bit murky, to the extent that I was planning on it ending up as a novella. Since I have been thinking about it, without the Second World War getting in the way, I can see that threads that are established at the beginning clearly have to be worked out, and will be on a much bigger canvas. It was all there, but I just didn't see it. That sounds crazy, because I wrote it and I must have always have intended the way it would work out, but there was only a gap, where the plan should be. The bits and pieces are coming together now, and I'm looking forward to putting it all together. Not for a while yet though. It's going to get a bit longer to compost before it gets its moment.