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’m currently reading several books, but the one that I’m getting quite excited about is Oblivion by Anthony Horowitz. It’s the culmination of a five book series about the Five children who are destined to save us all from the Old Ones. You must read them, they are very, very good.
They aren’t the happiest of books, but we are dealing with the end of the world here; it isn’t going to be a happy place.
Anyway, last night I read a chapter where Scarlet and Richard arrive in Dubai. It’s a chapter where nothing really happens. Horowitz has rolled the dice and has made the characters aware that they have to get to Antarctica and this is the chapter where Scarlet and Richard have to get there.
It’s a difficult chapter from a writers point of view because it has a very clear purpose, and this purpose has to be achieved; there is no choice. Scarlet and Richard have to get to Antarctica and they are in Dubai. They need a plane, they need a pilot and it can’t be as easy as walking into the deserted airport and happening upon what they need; this is the end of the world, it can’t be that simple.
So Horowitz creates an obstacle for them to get around in order to get them on their way. It’s sort of neither here nor there. It’s a plot point that probably wouldn’t be in the film version, if there was one, which there should be because it would be wow! It’s skip-able.
In Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, I always groan slightly when I get to the chapter about Norbert. I think there’s only one chapter, but it is needless. Nothing happens to advance the plot, as far as I can remember – it’s been a while since I read it – but you can’t just skip a chapter when you’re reading a book; can you?
Norbert is skip-able. I have a feeling that the chapters in Dubai are skip-able. Obviously I haven’t finished reading it yet so you never know, there may be some greater significance which I don’t know about. But often when you’re crafting a story, and I’ve said this before, it’s the geography of the plot that is the most significant. You can build a story with all it’s twists and promise, but physically getting your characters from A to B (or sometimes Z) is the most challenging part.
I’m not necessarily talking just about the physicality either, it’s not just about Dubai to Antarctica, the geography I’m talking about also deals with being in Dubai, needing a plane, finding a plane, needing a pilot, finding out where the pilot is, discovering he’s a prisoner, developing a plan to free him, meeting a new villain… etc etc. Geography can mean many things.
The reason I am writing about this is because I am currently writing a chapter where it’s all about the geography. Crystal has to go to the Halloween Ball but first she had to convince one of her aunts to take her.
I wanted this to be a chapter where she could prove how clever she is. I knew a few things going into the chapter. I knew that Auntie Sis would not be there, but Patrick would. And he was the key in convincing Edna. I just wrote that scene and am pleasantly surprised with how it’s turned out.
This is very much a Middling-Chapter, but unlike Dubai and Norbert, I am using this chapter to really get a feel for Crystal and Edna’s relationship. They are the perfect double act for this portion of the book. It’s a wonderful relationship. Edna is her aunt, but also her guardian. She is bringing Crystal up, so in many respects she is her parent. But because she is also not her parent, it allows the relationship to be more than just parental.
Edna is an older lady, but she’s young at heart. And she’s all heart. She is thrilled by things like a new blender for kitchen, or X-Factor; she takes pleasure in the little things. She’s got a wonderful sense of humor and has the ability to put anyone at ease without even trying. She’s a baker and very much a nester.
In going to the ball with her niece, she is actually being wonderfully defiant. Sissy is very much the voice of reason and rules; she is sensible and has taken on the mantle of protector and safe-keep-er. I love their relationship; so different and yet sisters. Complete trust in each other and aware of who the other is. Really, it’s a failing on Sissy’s part that she didn’t see this coming.
The interesting thing is, Sissy doesn’t see this coming because of the third influence, Crystal. It’s Crystal’s want and need to attend the event that Sissy doesn’t see coming. Edna would never have dreamed of going to the ball as Sissy had declared, had Crystal not convinced her to. She wouldn’t resent Sissy for not letting them go either, she has complete trust in Sissy and her opinion. But also, Edna doesn’t think anything of defying her sister because she sees it as harmless. And it would be, if they weren’t walking into something all the more sinister…
This Middling-Chapter malarkey is quite difficult. A completely necessary chapter that really is just padding before a major plot point. What I am trying to do is make it interesting. Actually, it’s not even that, it’s finding a way to make the middling-chapters good. I do understand that this chapter could become skip-able. I don’t want that; I know no author would want that. So for me, this chapter is not about interesting or advancing the plot, by default the plot is advanced anyway; this chapter is about heart. I’m hoping that focusing on heart I will avoid the trap of the Middling-Chapter.
In a way, Edna is the heart of this story, or at least this part of the story. When readers think about Edna in the future, I want them to think “Awwwwwwww!” She brings so much warmth and humor and that feeling of family, so this chapter is about her.
And it has been aptly named… Edna will go to the ball, and so the chapter is called Cinder-Edna.
I’ve done it! I’ve finally done it! Chapter 13 is complete!!!!!!!
It took an arm and a leg and literally years off my life… Ok that’s an exaggeration but it has taken the whole of March to get to this point and most of my Easter weekend to get it finished.
It ended up being an amalgamation of the two versions I had written. Alby remained Alby but I made him a little more erratic. I managed to slip in some of the lovely dialogue that Albert had said without it jarring with the speech that was already there. It has turned Alby into a slightly more unstable version of himself, but that’s what he was always intended to be.
I like how one minute he comes across as a relaxed, chilled out, almost high hippy who’s take on life is to just take it how it comes, and the next he flips into an uptight, frantic, almost deranged man who likes everything in its particular place.
These characteristics don’t often go together, but here they seem to work…
In order to get him to be credible he had to become the hippy, but in order to plant the seeds of plot for this and future books he had to be unhinged. This is a unique balance of the two. I hope.
I love Crystal’s reaction to Alby. She somehow manages to understand him in a way that Leo and Elsie just cannot. She sees Leo’s concern and deliberately pushes it and him to one side. She is so determined to get the information from Alby that she almost becomes reckless. She doesn’t quite cross that line, but it does feel like she gets close. Exchanges between her and Leo in this chapter are mostly silent; looks and glances and head shakes. And I love that. He tries to get her to step back because they don’t know this man. They don’t know if he is to be trusted or even if he’s dangerous. Elsie thinks he scary. She tries to keep up her glib and sarcastic nature for as long as she can, but eventually cannot hold it back. When Crystal sees how scared Elsie has become, she realises its time to pull back.
There is a point in the chapter where Crystal, Elsie and Leo are lead to a back room or sorts where Alby has promised to “show them something really cool”. This is where Alby turns. He is no longer that high-on-life hippy, or even that jumpy obsessive; he becomes something different. Something scary.
Here, Alby threatens them and is adamant that they have come to test him. He believes they have been sent by the Collector…
It’s been a difficult chapter to say the least. I’m looking forward to reading it again this afternoon after my night away from it. And I hope it reads well.
When I go back for a read after some space from writing a chapter, I always read it out loud. It is the only way to get a feel for it, to understand your characters and make sure what they say is innately them. Remember if it doesn’t sound like them, make it.
It’s also a great time to get a feel for sentence structure. A reader has to understand the sentence structure first time, so make sure they aren’t too fragmented or overly complex. Saying them out loud is such a good tool.
So that’s where I am. It’s now April and I’ve finished chapter 13. I haven’t quite kept up my 2 chapters a month plan, but at least I’ve written 5 chapters this year. 3 months in and I’m still happy with my progress. Yay!
I have become some sort of writing machine!
I was very happy with my progress in January and now I am feeling goooooood about February.
Last night I finished chapter 12. And I love the way it ended.
It was a peculiar chapter because I took Crystal through 3 different scenes and settings. I don’t normally move through that many scenes in one chapter, for no particular reason other than its just how I write.
I’m a faithful user of the three-little-star scene-breaker punctuation device… Oh it’s just easier to show you; like this.
* * *
I learnt it from Robin Jarvis – my favourite author! (You must read his latest books Dancing Jax and Freax and Rejex, you simply must faithful reader! I promise they will not disappoint!) The first series of books that ever affected me were his Tales from the Wyrd Museum and if I ever had the pleasure of meeting him I would tell him just how much his writing means to me.
I like my scenes to have an end, and that end to have a little beat or cliff hanger, not dissimilar to the way a scene ends in a TV show.
Sometimes the chapters I find the most difficult to write tend to be the ones with lots of scenes.
It’s almost a sign that I’m struggling with a chapter when there are lots of scenes. Like my fingers are dancing these characters around to try to get them where I need them to be.
But the strange thing is, these chapters somehow end up being my favourite.
In the last book I wrote I was stuck on Chapter 8. And when I say stuck, I mean stuck for months! Val came to my rescue there with some amazing insight into one character that sent me off in the direction I was aiming for but didn’t know how to get too.
Funnily enough, chapter 8 in this book saw me struggle too. Both were natural pauses in the story which is a strange coincidence, and whenever I go back and read either of them I am filled with that “oh I remember you” feeling.
The scenes in Chapter 12 were difficult in a way because there was a lot of exposition to get through. And whilst I knew what the exposition was, telling it neatly and clearly was always going to be a struggle.
But I like it. It’s the scene that I talked about in an early blog that I had to move to the hobbit-type-hole; Leo uses his mobile to do his research. And the humour I had planned works quite well. I’ll be interested to see if others find the funny funny.
Then there was the Goosebumps moment (Yay!) and it was quickly followed by another difficult scene.
It was time for Crystal to speak to her aunts. She had been stubborn and silent for long enough. It was time to let them back in slightly, and get the house talking again. But this time there’s no secrets. Crystal starts a conversation that only briefly touches on what the aunts kept from her for so long, but it was enough to start the ball rolling and opens the door for more communication in subsequent chapters.
I’m happy with it. I’m also happy with how it leads into the the final scene of the chapter; Crystal meets the Collector. And it’s such a brief meeting.
So few words are uttered but so much meaning is implied. Or at least if I’ve done my job right, then that’s what will come across.
Fantastic to have a new character to write for. And such an ambiguous character too. Delish!
So that’s where I am. Two more chapters done in another month. If I keep this up I’ll be on track to meet my deadline of January 2014.
I’m factoring in a lot of time for editing. I remember how long the last book took… And how painful it was.
It has just occurred to me that in a few days time I will be returning to work. This probably means that there will be less frequent blog-postage.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a lot I can do about it. Work takes up time; and a boy has to pay his bills!
But don’t fret, the January enthusiasm is sticking and I am going to push forwards with this book and its development. I have the WordPress App so can blog on the go; even if this means just a quote or picture. Any ideas that come to me whilst out and about may find their way directly to the blog rather than into a note on my phone.
Today I had a coffee with Alex which turned into a 4 hour conversation filled with gossip, opinions, work and book. It was fab! We completely put the world to rights. We went to a cafe in Llanelli where you can buy art and drink coffee; Gallery Art & Coffee = amazing! (follow their tweets @galleryllanelli) It was also lovely to get out into the Winter air and tread through the snow; driving wasn’t too bad either.
I will attempt to write at least a few nights a week. Think I will carry my diary around with me too, just in case inspiration hits.
Last night I sorted through my time-issue. Four weeks of narrative have been filled and actually do make sense.
I also realised something profoundly obvious that I seemed to miss out of my original plan. A little something new which has invigorated me again to continue writing. Sometimes a writer really does need to exercise the creating-muscle.
It’s so inspiring to make-up something brand new to put into your story. I think the only reason I miss these things out of my plans first time around is because I have quite a large cast of characters in this novel. It is easy to miss a beat for some characters sometimes. But then it’s also very exciting when you realise you have missed a moment for that character and you find a way to do that character justice by writing something good in for them.
Look at me, talking as if these characters are alive. But they are, you see; in my head.
Last night, I also found the voice of The Collector; a character that is going to make their first appearance in a few chapters time. A character that I must confess I haven’t given too much thought too.
Let me explain. I know their purpose. I know their direction. I know where they end up at the end of this novel. I know their motivation. I know their tastes. I know where they live. I know the type of person they are. I know where they’ve come from. I know what’s driven them to this point. I know what will ultimately be their undoing. I even know where this character will be after this novel…
But last night, I found their voice. I found how they speak and what kind of things they would choose to speak about; the mere fact that they choose to speak the way they do was a breakthrough. This is going to be a calculating character and one that I didn’t realise until last night I am very excited to write for. They are somebody who withholds themselves from people in the most basic ways. And I know why, and cannot wait to explore that with the reader.
This of course makes them more difficult to write; but all the more fun!
It’s interesting that the characters with a not-so-straight-forward-morality are the ones I enjoy the most. I had one of them in my last novel and still to this day love him so much! I vow to one day do that story justice purely in order to do justice to that character; a man who is ambiguous at the best of times. If I do my job right, you will never know where you are with him; you will always be second guessing him and his motives and I loved writing that!
To me, The Collector is going to be similar in tone; although I think perhaps a bit more bitchy…
After all this talk of characters, I find myself struggling slightly to find the voice of the Lord of The Wood. He needs to click into place for me. Again, I know his history, motivation, where he ends up, how he ends up there, what he has to say… but not how to say it. I think it may be a case of just starting the chapter and pressing on.
Maybe his voice will find me.