Wednesday 28 April 2021

How may cups of coffee are too many?

Or - are my characters in danger of being over caffeinated? 

It's a topic that writers occasionally discuss - not just coffee, but food in general. In real life many social interactions involve food and beverages - adult or otherwise. It's a part of life to be sociable and hospitable - meeting for drinks or a meal, offering guests refreshments - even business meetings usually involve a refreshment break. If you do all these and more in a week, it doesn't seem strange. Exhausting maybe, and bad for the waistline, but not strange. But in a novel? What would be normal in real life can slide into over use. I'm having this problem at the moment, because my characters always seem to be drinking coffee - which is in itself ironic as I rarely drink the stuff - I'm strictly a tea drinker. I do have five varieties currently in use, including a fruit tea and one that tastes of toffee. Somehow I can't envisage a hero who drinks tea. Hey, actually I can - I think the hero of the next book might be a tea drinker. The heroine thinks he's stuffy and snooty with a poker in an uncomfortable place, so drinking tea might suit him. He isn't, of course, but she and I are going to have fun finding that out. But I digress, as usual. 

My characters like to eat. What a surprise! I always describe what they are eating as my mother gave orders that I should, because as a reader she liked to know. Always try and please the readers. For meals in the current book I am trying to serve things that would be local to the Riviera and Liguria. What people eat can also be a clue to character - back to that tea drinking. Actually I think Elliot would probably like that toffee tea - which means he has a sweet tooth. I can see that he's going to be one of those disgustingly lanky types who can eat chocolate and cream cakes and never put on weight. Many of my books feature ice cream, because I like ice cream, although the current one doesn't.

And you can be pretty sure in my books that any food around will get eaten. One of my pet hates as a reader is the scene where the characters are having a meal which is abandoned because of some big emotional drama. My dramas don't mean lost food. If you are going to emote, please step away from the table. Scenes where a meal is prepared and the intended recipients don't turn up are a no-no as well.  Waste not, want not?

None of this solves my coffee problem. I'm going to have to count them up and see what I can do. Substitute gin? 

Wednesday 21 April 2021

It's not what you know ...

 At last night's zoom meeting of the Romantic Novelists' Association Cariad chapter the conversation got round to research, as it often does when writers get together. A couple of us, including me, were in the late stage of a Work in Progress - the messy time-consuming stage of fact checking and generally tidying up, while others were contemplating new books and what they would need to do by way of research, to make them happen. 

Putting a book together, at whatever stage, involves a lot of second guessing - do I have that right? Is there a different way of looking at that? How much detail should I include? The last two are author choices - the first is a scary minefield with the twin UXBs of "Things I think I know" and "Things I don't know I don't know". 

One of the things I am attempting to check out
 and get right at the moment are roses
 that would grow on the Italian Riviera! 
At the stage I am at, there is a lot of second guessing - and third and fourth. You would not believe how many things a neurotic author can find to question, once the book is written. As an academic I know that one of the biggest things about studying anything is the appreciation of the amount you - the "expert" - are aware you don't know.  The more you study, the more there is out there to find. As a writer, the principle the same. Yet another thing to wake up and worry about at 3 am. One thing you do know - there is always someone out there who does know.

Even the simplest contemporary story can pull in questions that only make themselves apparent when you are doing that final check. The "Hey, I wonder if that is actually legal/possible/advisable?" moment.

There is only one answer, Think hard, check everything you can and do your best. And try not to stress about it. Hah! 

But this does explain whey the WIP has not yet winged it's merry way to the publisher. I will get there, but it's slow going. 

Wednesday 14 April 2021

Words with emotional freight

 I'm a writer - words are what I do. The building blocks to be manipulated into a story. I enjoy them and what they can achieve. When you're writing, and reading, some words carry more weight than others. As a reader I particularly notice this with the sad words - forlorn, dejected, heartbroken, desolate - all stir something inside that goes a bit further than just unhappy. On the other side, ecstatic give you a lot more than happy, although happy is good too.  

Power to convey an emotion with just one word is heady stuff. It's not just the "emotional" words though. We invest all sorts of words with their own emotional baggage - possibly in a way that is unique to each of us. It all comes down to our experience as humans. Think of something like the word midnight - what do you get? Dark for a start, probably mysterious and after that it might begin to get down to personal association. Maybe romantic - the time when trysts are made and magical things happen in fairy tales. It might be spooky, assignations in graveyards and things that go bump in the night. In folklore terms it might be classed as perilous - boundaries, crossroads and thresholds being dangerous places, and midnight is the crossing place from one day to the next. I go with the romance/mystery - it's secret meetings and the glitter of jewels and swish of silk on the turret stairs, masks and long cloaks and masquerades, although there's a suggestion of the dangerous stuff in there too. 

As a writer it can be a challenge to go against the grain of words. The word wedding usually conjures up a joyful event, so making it an occasion for the predations of a con man in A Wedding on the Riviera was interesting. 

Writers are told to look at strong substitutes for more ordinary phrases - instead of 'walk quickly' you can hurry, rush, sprint, bolt. Even those can have gradations though, or they do for me. Bolt suggests running away - possibly with an element of alarm attached. Or maybe that's just me?

This post may have been inspired by the fact that I am currently doing the penultimate pass though the work in progress. I tend to write long, and I am attempting to chop off anything up to five thousand words, so am looking to make shorter substitutions. The use of words that will convey everything I want in one place is exercising my mind - that and removing some of the descriptive bits. I'm gathering those together as outtakes - maybe they'll be the subject of another blog at some stage. 

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Creating a villain

 Many authors will tell you that they love their villains - or love creating them. It sounds a bit sinister, but there is a lot of fun to be had making up something that is really nasty. I always tell myself that it's therapeutic, letting out all my inner evil. Some people claim to take out their real life frustrations - with a unpleasant boss or colleague perhaps, by writing them into the story. I don't do that. My villains come straight out of my imagination, which is possibly just a little bit disturbing? 

While  revising the current WIP and thinking about books to come, I've been pondering the nature of villains. They are not all presented in the same way. In the last book I unexpectedly had two - one evolved during the official editing process. Before that he was a shadowy bit player. Sometimes the identity of the villain is a secret - the essence of the whodunnit, with the final unmasking. In the WIP - The Villa in Portofino - the reader knows from the outset who the villainess is - which gives me the chance to develop her personality, and her motives and also let the reader know in advance what she next has in store for the heroine and hero. That is a variation of the pantomime 'He's behind you.' Possibly it's the easiest format to manage. I don't know how satisfying or not it is for the reader - maybe that's one for a Twitter poll sometime in the future. (Makes a note) You do get the chance to enjoy the villainy up close. 

At the moment I am contemplating the shape of the next book - Masquerade on the Riviera - I want to have two villains, one seen and one not. At least that's how it looks at the moment. I'm wrestling with the complexities of keeping the identity of the second player secret, while still showing the reader what they are up to. I will work it out, but at the moment it is taxing the brain. One of my favourite romantic suspense authors, Jayne Ann Krentz is very good at a final twist with a second villain, so I am trying to channel her expertise. 

Does a book have to have a villain? For romantic suspense, yes. In other genres there might be an antagonist - a mother in law from hell, a stroppy ex, a business rival. In one of the favourite romantic tropes - enemies to lovers - the hero and heroine do it all themselves - very economical that. It's not for me - I enjoy my villains too much.

Now, about this hidden villain ...