True to Auntie Sis’ word, Crystal was escorted to and from school over the next few weeks. There was a severe lack of sunshine and a very present overcast, and as the days got colder and darker, she wondered when her punishment would be over.
I love it when a plan comes together.
My style of writing is to block out the bare bones of a chapter and then when it comes to actually writing it, allowing my fingers to their own devices and indulging in a bit of creative embellishment. Really, its 1 part thinking to 2 parts doing.
1 Part Thinking:
Plan. Write a brief, brief, brief synopsis for the chapter considering the important plot points and really just mapping out the beginning, middle and end. More often than not, I have a place my main character has to end up, and I just plan the steps they take to get there.
Take a first pass at the writing which is really just turning the synopsis into prose. This doesn’t always feel like you are a competent writer, or even that what you’ve written is particularly good, but it does get the story going. Mostly, my first pass is speech. Getting the talkie bits in gives you a framework for the rest of the chapter.
Now this is the bit that I love; the heart. This is where I make the story feel. Difficult to explain. I make sure that the chapter is coherent and consistent when it comes to perspective, and try to ensure that I refer back to my main character as much as possible. I also embellish the speech.
I heard a brilliant piece of advice once, when it comes to a character’s dialogue. Basically, if you don’t love every single word that each character says, then cut it. For me, this makes the dialogue easier to write. If it’s half-hearted and just ‘serving a purpose’ then change it and make it right for that character.
It’s also where I feed the descriptions with some much needed adjectives. Pass 2 is all about making the chapter sit in its rightful place in the book and in the landscape that you’re writing about. Describe the scenery, enhance the mood, make the surroundings matter as much as the characters speech and thoughts and feelings.
Of course, this is an extremely general simplification of the process. The ‘1 Part Thinking’ is actually the culmination of years of characterisation, plotting, figuring out twists and turns, back story, research… I could go on!
But what I really love is when in doing the second pass, I write something and connect something that I didn’t know was there, at first. I’ll try and explain…
It’s the goosebump moments. Those rare times when the facts and research and plotting and sub plotting and characterisation and dialogue and setting all merge to create something special.
I always thought that Russell T Davies was very clever in his plotting – and he is! He writes things in that don’t seem important and end up being massively important. He has a fantastic way of linking things that you didn’t realised were linked to begin with. Pockets anyone?
He’s also very good at using the information he has already established to his advantage. So, when it comes to making that link, he looks incredibly clever, like he had planned the link all along. When, in reality, he probably discovered the link was there half way through writing it – “Us Smiths have to stick together!”
Am I making sense?
The reason I bring this up is because I just linked something in my novel which is really nothing more than a happy accident. A fantastic play on words that hopefully, if you ever read it, you will think I was so clever and had planned it all along, when in actual fact, it happened by accident through a bit of research and using what I had already established.
This makes me so happy! For a brief and shining moment, I felt like a proper writer. I even had goosebumps.
Then I read it back, and I gave myself goosebumps again!
It’s these small and clever times that spur me on. It can be awfully lonely and quite isolating working as a writer. You can doubt yourself 300 times a day, and only feel like you’ve done good maybe twice a day.
This is one of those times! I pat myself on the back.
Chapter 11 is finished and I am half way through Chapter 12, as of yet untitled. I hate giving a chapter a title if it doesn’t naturally come to me. That will be next now, I’ll spend days agonising over the name of this chapter instead of writing it.
So to save myself the bother, I’ll name it now: lets call it…
Words Written in Red and White
It’s a working title. But I like it!
Some chapters are longer than others. Some are just short. I shouldn’t let it bother me too much, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t concern me.
It’s the geography that takes time.
I don’t mean countries, I mean the placing of characters and how to maneuver them onto the correct path. Chapter 11 is a prime example of this.
I need to get Crystal, Elsie and Leo to Morris’ hole (insert obvious ‘Carry-On’ joke here). First, they needed to decide to go there. This has taken 3 A4 pages. Now, it was originally 2 pages, but an idea came to me and I went with it. I have written in a little scene where Leo’s mates see him with the two girls and decide to join them and make fun of him.
This was such a great scene to write. It was really real. And after the last two mythical chapters I needed me some real.
The boys teasing their friend is just what would happen. I had fun naming them too. It was also great to get to know Leo a bit better, and not just in a reacting-to-Crystal’s-magical-adventures-and-problems kind of way. Seeing him around his friends gives us a real insight into who he is.
The next part of the chapter was meeting at Crystal’s house to go and see Morris. This took two and a half A4 pages. I had previously had a crack at it and wasn’t feeling it. It’s hard to define exactly what I didn’t like about it… But I’ll try.
I originally had Elsie arriving first dressed in an outfit completely inappropriate for a walk in the woods. Crystal’s reaction was great but Leo wasn’t there; that was the problem. Leo had to already be there to share in the reaction.
So I got Leo there first and then they couldn’t just wait in silence for Elsie to turn up; so I wrote a little chat between them.
This conversation is a brilliant addition to the chapter because it allows us to learn even more about Leo and his family. I obviously knew Leo’s circumstances, but Crystal didn’t and I didn’t really have a plan as to when she would find out; it might have even happened off-stage as it were. But this is better!
I’ve given Crystal the reassurance in Leo that she needs. He understands, in his own way, what she is going through and now she understands why he’s helping her. It’s a nice little conversation which I think really helps with his characterisation, but it has taken words.
So now, I am 6 pages into the chapter and we haven’t even arrived at Morris’ home yet.
I also have the song. Morris sings a song in this chapter which I really want in there. See my previous post One Year To Go… to read all about that. But this, again, takes words. In fact it takes a whole page!
So, looking ahead, Morris’ home is going to take a fair bit of description. And then there is the conversation where we find our next clue which moves the narrative forwards.
And the plan for the next chapter is to be set somewhere different again; this won’t need to be set up, thankfully, as the plan is to set it up with Morris. So there’s a lot to get into this chapter; perhaps too much…
I am now going to love you and leave you with a Carrie Bradshaw-esque question:
Fellow writers, when it comes to the number of pages in a chapter, does size matter?
It’s been a week of work and illness. I was off last Sunday and Monday and I just wasn’t right; achy and dizzy and woozy. Good word that; woozy.
I couldn’t bring myself to write because it would have just been mindless drivel. So I watched some telly and had some friends round for coffee (which was brilliant because we just laughed for four hours!).
Since then I’ve been working, as in my actual job, and my shift pattern hasn’t lent itself well to writing; lots of late finishes and early starts.
So Crystal Green hasn’t seen much action this week. Though I have been thinking about things, which is never a good thing when you’re not actually creating. And actually, it has sort of sent me into a spiral of negativity.
When I stop writing, I start judging. And judgement is great when you have a whole novel to analyse. But I don’t. Only 10 chapters exist and 11 is a work in progress.
I understand why other authors suggest that your write quickly because too much time for reflection can be a bad thing. Not that I have reflected on any one particular thing this week. It’s more I’ve been thinking about the overall feel and format of the novel.
I can’t help but think that what I am writing now is VERY different to the the beginning of the novel. Intentionally so, I must add, so I must have thought it a good idea once. But this time of reflection has made me wonder if it is, actually, at all, any good.
The fact is a novel is a journey. It’s pointless to examine the route taken from half way to your destination. Surely, I should be thinking about the feel of the novel once the novel is complete???
I am more than happy about the 2 chapters I wrote in January. After my long writing break, they came so easily and felt exciting again; in retrospect this is probably because they are entirely different from the first 8 chapters.
There is something to be said about ‘parting’ a novel, like The Hunger Games; the story split into 3 parts…
The problem with that is, once you start ‘parting’ when do you stop? Do you stop at all? Would all the subsequent novels then have to be parted?
This is one story. And perhaps I should just shut up about the format and get on with the writing! But this blog is about everything; the good and the bad about this process. There are high and low moments. This is a low one.
So rather than spiraling even further down, I am going to stop blogging and start writing. I will leave you with some drawings of Morris’ hole, a sentence which if taken out of context could be misconstrued. That’s another good word; misconstrued.
Frothed! That’s a really good word; one of my favourites; frothed!
This is so typical of me.
I am at a brief pause in my writing because (as I talked about in my previous post) I am designing Morris’ home. It’s an important set in my novel and one I will be returning to for other scenes; so I want it to be right.
I don’t think I give an awful lot of thought to setting. And by setting I don’t mean generic cafes or pubs or schools; they don’t need a lot of thought. I’m not talking either of landmarks or beaches or anything that could be considered universally seen, as it were; places that don’t need invention.
I’m talking about homes; where our characters lay their heads at night. This book is very much about home and family and so home needs a certain amount of thought. In my previous novel the sets were just there; they served their purpose; I say that as if I gave them no thought at all… I must have seen the sets in my head, or else they wouldn’t be described as they have been; but I don’t remember really thinking in depth about any particular space that a character would inhabit and by inhabit I mean fill with their stuff!
I actually drew a picture of Crystal’s house as a blueprint so that I could see where she ate and did her homework etc. It was important to me to get that right. I sort of used my parent’s house as a footprint for that blueprint (two lots of prints there!) and I’m happy with it. I think that drawing ended up in the bin, but I just needed to visualise it.
That’s why I’m having trouble at the moment; I can’t see Morris’ home. I can see parts of it, some bits of furniture and I know what the entrance looks like; but I can’t see all of it. Perhaps I will do another drawing…
Fellow writers, how much thought goes into your sets?
I’m very aware too of other subterranean homes; The Hobbit is in my mind as well as The Wind In The Willows. I have a beautiful WITW (if ever there was a time to abbreviate it’s now) book that I brought back from a trip to London with Val; it weighed a ton but I had to have it. The illustrations are amazing. And I just need to make sure that no imagery is hovering from these books. I don’t want to inadvertently copy.
Anyway, what I was going to talk about was this (which is so typical of me). I am supposed to be creating a home for Morris. I even started making notes before my shift in work yesterday. I was at the canteen table with my tea and I was scribbling away on what Morris’ home would be like.
I got a few good points down (yay!) but not enough.
However, today whilst driving home…
I often have ideas whilst driving. Sometimes very complex story points or images come to me when I’m in the car. Of course I’m always in control and driving safely (Mam and Dad if you’re reading!) but I find that ideas come to you easily when you are doing something else.
It’s like when you’re chatting to your friends and having a good catch up; the conversation always flows better when you are doing something else; like cooking, or drinking…
Today saw the invention, or rather the clarification of the end of a character.
I know what happens to these people passed this story; and if I am lucky to get this published and am given the opportunity to write the rest of this series, you will too. I always knew where this particular character would end up; but now I know how.
And actually, I cried. Sad as that may be to admit, when I finished writing it in my notes on my iPhone, I cried.
This has got to be a good thing! I cannot wait to write it.
I write my books in chronological order. For me, I can’t get around the idea of writing the last chapter first. I like to experience the complexities of a story with its complex characters. So now, for this character, I have an end. It is an end I can write to and really, what is a story if not a means to an end?
It’s always easier for me to think of the beginning and the end of a book. It’s the middle I find more difficult; I think it’s a little different for characters.
Sometimes you can create a character like say a school bully, for which you can just say very broadly, that she is a bully and she will get her comeuppance in the end. That’s an arc for that character that they will follow.
It’s a little different again for main characters because they are the people that you are with on this adventure. You are experiencing everything with them and you get to know them. These characters may not have an ‘end’ because their journey ends when the whole story does.
There are characters that are in a book to serve a purpose (like the bully) and there are characters that have a purpose; two different things. This character has a very definite purpose and now their story has a conclusion. It is their end.
It’s odd writing a character out of a story before the story reaches its end. Odd and incredibly satisfying and exhilarating!
And when you have a story that moves through several books, characters and plots go on quite the journey; and you with them. The end for that person has to be good. It’s their punchline.
And so as I sit at my desk on this fine but cold February day, one character has an end.
It might take me a while to get there, but I really hope I do. And I really hope you get to experience it too.
I hope I make you cry.