World Building When Writing Fiction #writing #writerscraft, #fiction #books #reading

The nitty-gritty of writing – it’s not all glamorous

In my previous post I talked about how when I’m writing a book it begins with a character – a character that comes to me out of the blue usually when I’m busy doing something completely unrelated to writing. And it’s in getting to know that character that the plot begins to develop, as does the idea of where it should be set.

The devil is in the detail – timelines, events & maps

But whereas I don’t do much in the way of detailed planning for the development of the story itself, preferring to see where my characters take me, I’ve learned the hard way that I absolutely must have a detailed record of the timescales involved, of the factual biographies of the characters, and of the locations where the action will take place. This is particularly important when writing a series as there’s only so much detail I can hold in my memory.

Timing is crucial

Therefore I’ll have a time frame for the duration of the action – be that over a year, a month, a week – whatever. And even if I don’t say it’s all taking place in, for example, 2017, I’ll make sure I have a definite year or period in mind, so that the continuity of the action works.

Character biographies

Linked to that I’ll also have the birth dates and ages of all the main characters decided on and noted – again no matter whether those details are mentioned in the novel. But as well as dates of birth, I also make sure to note all the relevant background details of the characters that might influence their actions and reactions in the novel – yes, regardless of whether these details are directly mentioned in the telling of the story. For example what their parents did for a living and what their names were, where the character grew up, their siblings if any, perhaps their health history or educational record. And most importantly I make a note of their physical characteristics – again – you guessed it – whether or not they’re directly referred to in the telling of the tale. This all helps bring the characters fully to life in my head and, as with the timeline, helps me check continuity.

Made-up places

And, although I use real world settings in my novels I do also apply some fictionalising to those real places. That way I get the best of both worlds and my already hard-working imagination doesn’t get overstretched.

So, for example in my Skye-set novels – the Scottish island is of course real. The main town of Portree, the famous mountains and other scenic sites are all places that exist, but the township of Halladale where my main character Rachel loves is entirely fictional – as are its hills and the local mountain, Ben Halla.

I made up Halladale because I wanted the freedom to include whatever houses, landscape and other features that I needed for my story to work. As for the houses where Jack, Rachel and other characters live – whether on Skye, or in the other locations the story takes them – they, too are all made up. However, although some are completely made-up, some are based on real places. Halladale is based on the place where I lived in north Skye. Rachel’s house is loosely based on my own Skye house. And the Jerusalem flat where Rachel’s brother lives is based on the apartment where a friend of mine lived when she was growing up there and which I visited.

Using made up or fictionalised places means that I draw out floorplans of the houses and note what direction they face and what can be seen from various windows and so on. I also draw maps – for example I drew a map of Halladale and noted how far it was (in my mind) from the real main town of Portree and where on the island’s northern peninsula I have placed it. That way I can have them leave their driveways and head in the right direction every time, and I can have them gaze out of their front room window at the same view of the loch as they had in a previous chapter.

All of these background details are essential. Shared with my readers or not, they help ensure consistency and credibility in my storytelling and having them written down saves me so much time as I edit, proofread and check my manuscript before publication.

Not all about channelling the muse

So, this writer’s life is not just a case of sitting down and having the inspired and wonderful prose flow effortlessly from brain to computer screen. A lot of effort goes into producing a novel – oh yes, it does – and there’s a lot goes on in the background that the reader never gets to see but is a nevertheless necessary part of the writer’s craft.

Which brings me to research – another essential item in the build-a-novel toolkit. But that’s a post for another day.

 

Being an Indie Author – Job description involving three hats – Part 1: Writer

 

I’m an indie author. That means I write and publish my books. So not only do I do the creative part i.e. write the novel, but I must also ensure the manuscript is polished and ready to publish, and then I have to make it available and market it. So it’s a job that requires the wearing of three different hats – writer, publisher and marketer.

N.B. The only hat I suit is the trilby – hence the photo. The other hats for the purposes of this series will therefore be metaphorical – hey, I’m a writer – I can do metaphorical.

This will be the first of three posts where I look at each role in turn.

(If you’re interested in why I chose the indie route you can read a recent guest post I did here on Kate – aka the quiet knitter’s – blog).

 

The Writer’s Hat

The role of writer of the book is of course common to all authors whether they’re traditionally or independently published.

There are lots of how-to books, courses and online lists of advice available, but it seems for every rule there is about writing a novel, there’s a corresponding one that instructs the writer to do the opposite. So what it boils down to is – do what works for you and adhere to one rule only – and that is TURN UP AND WRITE.

I have attended several writing courses from week-long residential to one-off half-day workshops. And gradually I’ve discovered what works for me.

My Writing Method

Story Elements:

Character and Setting

I’ve found for all my novels so far – and for possible future ones (which I already have notes for) – the stories start with a character or two. The character will just pop into my head when I’m least expecting it – often when I’m out walking. If I like the character enough I’ll then carry out a bit of an interrogation/interview with them in order to find out more about them. They’ll tell me where they live, what they do for a living, their family situation and so on.

This information will help me come up with a possible setting for the story.

For example, Rachel from Displacement came to me when I was hanging up the washing in my garden on the Isle of Skye. She told me she was a Skye crofter, but also a book illustrator as nobody can make a living from crofting only. She also revealed she lived alone, she was bereaved, and her mother had been a Jewish refugee who’d arrived in Scotland as a child just before the Second World War.

Plot

Once I have a character or two I’ll then try to find out what problems, dilemmas and/or challenges the character faces and that will lead to ideas for the plot.

Then once I have these ingredients in place it’s time to get writing.

Planning

I rarely know the full story in advance and I don’t plan it all out beforehand. I’m more of a pantster (as in fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants) as some writing experts call it. Apparently writers are either plotters or pantsters. But I suspect a lot of us are a bit of both. I usually have a rough outline based on the timeline of the novel and divided up into beginning, middle and end and it’s usually handwritten on one side of an A4 piece of paper. But as I go along I’ll also sketch out (also handwritten) individual scenes or a list of scene headings. And sometimes I’ll break scenes down into post-it notes. However, there are other times where the ideas just flow and don’t require any sort of prompts or notes.

For me, part of the enjoyment of writing a novel actually comes from not planning in too much detail. That element of surprise, of characters sometimes sort of taking over is fun and exciting.

Of course as my most recent two novels have been parts 1 and 2 of a 3 part series, I’ve had to be a bit more organised planning wise – both to maintain consistency with the earlier book – and to ensure credible development in character and plot across all three books. But even with the series there has been no very detailed or inflexible plan. Indeed I didn’t plan to write a series. That only came about because readers of book 1 wanted more.

Getting On With The Job:

Desk Time

I aim to write every day Monday to Friday and I aim for a particular word count per day – that way I can have an approximate date for completion of the first draft in the diary.

It also means my writing brain is used to/coaxed into co-operating. It knows it can’t wait around for the muse. It knows it has a job to do and it had better get on with it – with or without the fickle muse. Yes, there are days when the quality’s not great or when it’s a struggle just to do a few sentences, but that’s all part of the process. Writing is a job and, like any job, there are good days and bad days, but regardless you do have to show up.

I don’t edit much as I go along. I may make a note to check or research something later, or I may a tweak here and there, but mostly I just plough onwards until THE END.

Although it isn’t really THE END – not by a long way…

In part 2 in this series I’ll look at the next stage – at the process of redrafting and redrafting and redrafting – to get the manuscript ready for going off to the editor. I’ll also share how it is working with the editor and cover designer in order to get the book to its absolute best version.

 

Just Do It 4 – location, location, location

The terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth...
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Setting

Welcome to the fourth and final post in this series on novel
writing for beginners. So, where were we? We’d overcome fear and
procrastination. We’d got to know some likely characters. We’d developed a
story idea into a plot. Now we need to consider setting.

And there are a few things to consider when deciding when
and where to situate the story. Obviously if it’s a historical novel, then
when, and most likely where, will be implicit in your story content. And the
same will be true, at least to some extent, with any type of genre fiction.
Science fiction is likely to be away from planet Earth, crime novels will involve
a police station and so on.

However, even with genre, there will still be decisions that
you have to make. Is your Victorian thriller set in the homes of the
aristocracy, the middle classes or amongst the poor on the streets? Is your
tale of the Roman occupation told from the emperor’s court or the subjugated
settlement?

With contemporary fiction, the choice of setting is wide. Is
the story centred around a family home, village, city, workplace, or in the
midst of a ritual such as a wedding or a funeral?

Sometimes the setting is almost a character in its own
right. It may dominate and determine the plot. It may evolve and change as the
story develops. For example, if your story is one about survival on a remote
mountain top, vast desert, or alien planet, the nature of the environment that
the characters are in is crucial to the events and outcomes.

Once you have decided on your setting you need to bring it
to life. It’s exciting – there might be houses to furnish, landscapes to form
and plant, cities and worlds to create from scratch. Then again you might set
it somewhere real and just tweak the details.

Whatever you do, make the setting consistent and coherent. I
draw floor-plans of the houses in my novels – so that I don’t inadvertently
move the kitchen from the back to the front of the house, or shift a staircase
from one side of the building to the other. Similarly with fictional villages
and towns – drawing a map is a good idea. Think about what the characters see
when they look out of the window, walk down the street, enter their workplace,
fly their spaceship, approach the battlefield, sit in their kitchen…

Make sure the setting is believable and has integrity. Even
when, or rather, especially when, creating a non-Earthly world. Even if a
planet or parallel world is completely manufactured by you, it should still
obey its own integral rules of physics.

Give enough detail – using all the senses – so that the
reader can begin to inhabit the world of your book. But don’t put in long
chunks of bulk description. Feed in the details as you would with character
traits. ‘Show don’t tell’ is just as applicable with setting. There’s also no
need to repeat these details. Once your reader knows that the main character
has a cream leather sofa, don’t go on about it. Trust your reader to remember.
Also, trust your reader to fill in the gaps – as you would do with the
characters’ physical appearance. Good writers give just enough detail to set
the reader on their own imaginary path. Just think how annoying it can be when
a book you love is dramatised for television, and the characters’ physical
appearances and the look of their homes and villages are dictated by the
casting director and the set designer.

So creating your novel’s setting should be fun, but keep it authentic
and credible. Give enough of a map that the reader can find their way in and
orientate themselves, but leave them enough room to explore and make sense of
your created world for themselves.

And that just about wraps up this ‘Just Do It’ series. The
intention was to get those of you who are aspiring writers to take the plunge
and become actual writers and to give first timers some basic tips on the
foundations of novel writing. There are further aspects such as use and quality
of tone, atmosphere and style and the all-important voice which are also
necessary to novel writing. But let’s keep these for another time, further down
the line.

For now get the characters, plot and setting assembled and
set off. Go on, just do it!