Monday, February 20, 2006

WHERE DO YOU START?

I’m at that interesting beginning process of a new book and the big question is always … where do I start? I have my characters – well almost. I have a plot – or as much as I need for now. I know it will evolve and grow as I write, as the characters take me by surprise and I find myself asking myself – now why did he or she do that? With solid characters, there is always a reason; my job as a writer is to find it.

This time is a little different. I started this book in February last year. The first couple of chapters went off like a rocket, but there came a point when I ralised I was just having fun. Indulging myself. The heroine was terrific, as was the "mad old bag" neighbour who took pot-shots as the heroine’s cat with her spud-gun. The hero, however, having made an impact in the opening, had disappeared off the face of the earth. It might have been a great book, but it wasn’t a romance and HMB expected a romance. When I’d written thirty pages without the hero even putting in an appearance I knew I was in trouble and at that point I put it aside and got on with THE FIVE YEAR BABY SECRET. Then, inspired by a book of the world’s most beautiful gardens and a talk by Penelope Hobhouse on the Gardens of Persia, I wrote THE SHEIKH’S GUARDED HEART. After that I was asked to write the last book in a series to be called THE VALENTINE BRIDE – and who could resist writing a book with that title?

It stayed with me, though. Nagged at me. I loved the idea, I loved the characters, I just had to get them together on the page, interacting, falling over each other, falling in love. And I had to cut down all the complicated back story to bring them to the start of book. Prologues are useful for this, so I wrote a prologue. It was fun but at nine pages it was far too long. AND WHERE WAS THE HERO!

Then I had a brainwave and moved the heroine from her own little attic flat (overlooking the garden of the mad old bat) and put her into the hero’s house. (This is known in as a “crucible” technique. You stick them together in one place and give them no choice but to stay there. Cruel, but fun!) That worked. I no longer had to find ways to bring them together. But there was still too much exposition in that first chapter. Too much tell, not enough action. Too much heroine walking away from the hero – and the hero glad to see her go. (He may want her to leave, but you have to make it so that he’s begging her to stay – through gritted teeth if need be!)

And then I moved the time line around. One of the major story elements now doesn’t happen until after the story has begun. I ditched the prologue and dealt with the set-up in a series of brief, snappy emails that gives just enough information about the heroine, just enough about the hero to let the reader know who these people are. I can now use a bit of the prologue in a later scene. I can even make a scene of a brief reported flashback that I cut, using it in face-to-face interaction.

Some stories start at the right place and you just go from there. Some of them just need more work.

Just 46,000 more words to go…

5 comments:

Michelle Styles said...

I love the sound of the mad old bat! And look forward to reading the finished product.

BTW I have tagged you to a current things meme.

Trish said...

Love the idea of the spud gun! Sounds brilliant. AAnd nothing better than still having a way of working a book you love...

I was telling a friend recently that I keep a 'bits of' folder for when I slash and rearrange. The parts may not always make their way into the story but they can be jolly handy in another...

Nell Dixon said...

Sounds good! Can't wait to read it.

anne gracie said...

Very interested to read this, Liz. I tend to have to pull openings apart, too and come at it from different angles until it "clicks".

I'll be looking forward to this one. I hope the mad old bat has survived. But I also hope she misses those cats ;-)

Liz Fielding said...

Michelle, tag noted. Watch this space!

Trish, I keep a file I call "junk", too. A place to stash all the bits I cut during the day. For the last book, it was nearly as long as the book!

Anne, the mad old bat stays, but she's under control now! (I seem to have a real problem with minor characters running away with me!)