Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Shiny and new

So, we know what we are writing and who we are writing for. Fantastic. Our hero is clear in our head, all tousled hair, sharp cheekbones, a soupcon of arrogance and tight-fitting breeches (optional), our heroine has the right amount of sassiness mixed with a dash of vulnerability and at least one killer outfit, even if she doesn’t know it yet. And we have a scenario, a “What If” ready to pluck these two characters out of their ordinary world and throw them together so that they can meet, interact and, eventually, fall in love. Brilliant, job done. Goodness, this writing business is a doddle.
Gratuitous shot of hero in breeches:

If you are anything like me then this is the easy part. I love the thinking up of characters and throwing them together in some uncomfortable way. I spend my time day-dreaming up “What ifs”, rewriting TV programmes, books or films - although obviously I have grown out of casting myself in the major role. Who wants to be a vampire slayer or a kick ass spy anyway? Quickly moving on…
What isn’t so easy is working out what happens next.
This isn’t a blog about pantsing versus plotting because there are hundreds of blog posts on that very topic all written by people with a lot more experience than me. Besides, I fall untidily in between. I know exactly how the first three chapters are going to unfold and I know how it’s going to end; it’s just getting there that’s the tricky part. This explains why I have three partials and only one finished novel sitting in my reject files. No, this is a blog about ploughing on through and just writing the darn thing because whether you are a plotter with hundreds of neatly arranged index cards, a collage board and a chapter by chapter synopsis or not, at some point you are going to have to sit down and actually write. Not blog, tweet, or make another cup of tea. Write.
I love writing, that’s why I do it; nothing makes me happier and starting a new novel is a completely giddy experience – the first sentence, paragraph, page, chapter. This giddy feeling stays with me all the way to Chapter 3, and then the doubts set in. Is he consistent, is she behaving naturally or has she turned into Heroine 101, is their conflict real, is there any emotional depth? And the worst question of all – is this the dullest non-story ever written? As I start chapter 4 I am convinced that yes, this is terminally, irretrievably dull. Panic. Meanwhile all the other scenarios and characters start jostling for attention. They will be easier to write, they promise, why not start something new?
In a category romance this is particularly dangerous because, unless you are writing a historical, paranormal or crime based romance then plot wise nothing much does happen, the bulk of the novel is your hero and heroine interacting with each other. No car chases, traitors or grand quests, no amusing secondary characters with problems of their own to deflect attention for a chapter or two. Just two people. For 50,000 words. Jessica Hart once described one of her books as “two people, trapped into marriage going to live in a tumbledown castle. They decorate it and go into a city for a day.” Not the most enticing blurb in the world and certainly not how the reader would describe Newly Weds of Convenience and yet plot wise that pretty much is what happens; but the book is so, so much more. Because it is completely character driven.
Writing character driven books is NOT easy especially for those of us at the beginning of our writing journeys, Like many first time writers my first Standard R (the 3 chapters that exist anyway) is a shining example of how not to write a romance: Too Much Plot, Heroine 101 and Hero 101 pushed together by a series of contrived situations and manipulated by an entire cast of secondary characters. If I tell you that this work of genius included an estranged father, a runaway bride, a lost daughter and a jealous lover you'll get the idea. Goodness knows what I would have poured into Chapter 4, maybe it's a mercy it never got finished.
So in my current WIP I have gone back to basics. No jealous relatives, secret letters or dastardly cousins; just 2 people, a past and an attraction. Of course it may be woefully, endlessly dull, if it ever gets finished in time for the New Writer's Scheme I am sure the reader will soon tell me so. Of course the only way I will ever find out is to ignore those doubting voices and keep writing...


Julia Broadbooks said...

It is so tempting to throw in something new when you are feeling sick of your book. That never ends well.

Xandra James said...

I agree with Julia. It's hard for us 'newbies' to know whether we've stepped beyond the line of believability in our plots by having too much happen, too quickly.

You're a great writer, hun. Write the story your characters demand and let the editing gods help you make it perfect. I know you can do it! :)

See you in September for the New Voices 2011 competition? Good, good ;D x