How To Write The Way You Know, or How Not To Waste Time Trying To Do It Differently (part
On my Instagram account, where I follow many amazing writers, there are has been interesting threads on how people write and plot their work. So on here I thought I would go through how I normally plan my novel. From the picture that inspired the initial spark, to all the background work ~ all before I type a single word.
I'm a planner by nature, and definitely exercised that preference with The Longing. For my Work In Progress (WIP) has been a whole other ball game as I thought I'd go against the grain and try it somewhat differently from my usual method. I had the storyline in my head, I could tell my story organically with minimal plotting, couldn't I? Other writers do, why not me? Oh dear reader, what a pickle I got myself into. Stop start. Start again. Writers block. I can't do this. The Longing must have been a fluke. I let months go by until I took myself in hand and gave myself a good talking to,
"Go back to basics ~ you do know how to write properly!"
My WIP is provisionally titled The Cruel Sister and was inspired by a picture of this bicycle.*
Before I knew it I had an idea about estranged sisters, a group of friends, an incident that comes back to haunt the main protagonist. What if they thought they knew everything about each other, but it turned out to be a lie? Let's set it in Dartmouth, Devon and just for a change, let's also make the characters of a 'certain age.' We're off! The characters themselves came alive in my head ~ like a movie reel, and their names easily presented themselves. I once tried to explain to a non-writer friend who asked,
"How on earth did you get that idea for a story and your characters from simply that picture of a bike?"
I have no idea, I just did!
I should say that dynamics between family members and between friends has always fascinated me. 'Happy Families,' is a dangerous myth, I think. Sometimes, secrets and lies transcend the years and give rise to shame and deceit that sooner or later needs an outlet. Longterm friendships weather all sort of life obstacles, maybe better than family ties. Do friendships last because the shared values and outlook on life sustains, despite perhaps the juggling of families, partners, careers and so on?
Why set in Dartmouth? Well, I'm biased as I know the area, and it is a lovely part of the country and a different world from, say, London. Dartmouth lends itself to my storyline as the town has charming back streets with nooks and crannies, and is by the water ~ rising steeply from the bank of the River Dart. The town has a 'light' feel where nothing ever bad happens. It's touristy and a happy place. A sense that it is a small community with everybody knowing everybody else, despite the annual influx of tourists.
Once I've an initial sense of who my characters are and the setting, I start to look through magazines for pictures that capture their essence. I do this to make a picture board.
Over time, I add my own photo's, until I'm happy with what I see.
The characters have become older in my novel than depicted here, but I've not changed the pictures as I can still get a sense of who they are.
The next step is to make my characters more rounded humans, by asking a lot of questions, for example:
Who are they?
What are their families like?
What motivates them and what are their goals?
What are their characteristics and that drive their behaviour?
How will their behaviours drive the plot forward?
I spend considerable time doing this as I need to get inside their heads. Time in cafe's or other public places is time never wasted ~ it's where I people watch. If you sit quietly, you'll observe people that inspire and inform your own characters. Observe how people interact when they are happy, sad or angry. How do they react to the people around them? What might their body language tell you? I start to get obsessive! I make notes of my observation's, jotting down snippets of conversation ~ you can overhear real gems. Just be discrete about how you go about this, after all no-one wants to feel they are being watched.
Would I use information from people I know? Stepping on dodgy ground if you ask me ~ there is a need to be careful that who you are writing about is not identifiable as a real person. You don't want to knowingly offend anyone, or worse. People will say,
"Oh I recognise someone, is it so and so?"
But I've always been able to honestly say it's not who they think it is, and take it is a compliment that my characters are well drawn. If you must, make a composite of people you might know, take one person's features, another person's hair colour or mannerisms and put together like a jigsaw puzzle. Far more enjoyable though is to watch strangers in order to form a character!
In part 2, I'll show you how I start to piece it all together, including how credible are the characters and storyline? I need to know what's doable ~ if it doesn't work for me, it won't for potential readers either.
* This picture I have no idea who to credit. If anyone knows who it belongs to I'll be more than happy to acknowledge.
Find me on Twitter @nearthetown and on Instagram @writerintheattic