Novel writing has always evolved. I’m not talking about changes in fashion – the prevalence of Science Fiction in the 1960s, the rise of the Fantasy Novel, the misery memoirs, the Vampire novel and the Dystopian novel. Each decade popular fiction embraces a new genre. My belief is that today’s writers are adapting their writing style to ensure that their novels meet the changing requirements of the eBook. For many novelists, especially indie writers, eBook sales far outweigh physical book sales and an increasing number of novels are only ever published in eBook form. Writers cannot afford to ignore the demands of the eBook. Continue reading
Readers often identify the main protagonist in a novel with the author, especially if it is a series character.
I’m guilty of that myself. One of my favourite writers is Zoe Sharp. Her main character, ex-Special Forces Charlie Fox appears in the first novel Killer Instinct teaching self-defence but in the later novels she works as a bodyguard. Ever since I first met Zoe, as I read the novels I can’t help picturing Charlie as Zoe. The two have much in common. Charlie is a gun-toting maverick always jumping on her powerful motor bike. Amongst her hobbies Zoe cites “fast cars (and faster motorbikes) and target shooting.” I’m not sure about the maverick bit, but she and her husband did build their own house in the Lake District. At one of her talks, she mentioned that in the process she managed she cut off the top of her finger. When her husband rushed over she put out a hand to stop him with the command, ‘Let me see how the blood drips.’ The things people do for their art! If you’ve never read a Zoe Sharp novel try Roadkill and you’ll see what I mean about bikes! Continue reading
I find it difficult to believe that only a month ago I was languishing just beyond that halfway point, some 45,000 words into the novel. It was like wading through treacle. The ideas wouldn’t come and every sentence was an effort. The writing simply refused to flow. My ‘soggy middle’ blues were the worst I’ve ever experienced – or so it seemed at the time. It had taken me six months to reach that point, but it was the two-month long break that followed that I blamed for my sorry state as those who read my last blog will know. From the responses I received after it was posted, I know that my experience is far from unique.
Looking back, I realise that break was no bad thing. Distance can make the heart grow fonder because, after a few tentative steps, I’m now racing to the finish.
To Plot or Not to Plot
One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that no two writers write their novels in the same way. The biggest differences are between the meticulous plotters who plan to nth degree taking months to write 40,000 word summaries with details of each chapter and scene and those who see writing as a journey – writers who start with a sentence or two and see where it leads them. Talking to many of my writer friends, it appears most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
We’ve all experienced it – the novel progresses reasonably well then life gets in the way and things grind to a halt. It may be a holiday, an illness, a family crisis or a major upheaval such as a house move. It’s not just our time but our whole preoccupation that’s focussed elsewhere. It’s bad enough trying to get back into the writing routine after a relatively short break but when things stretch out into weeks and months the greater the effort needed to find the enthusiasm to get back to work. That’s what it is – work – hard work and suddenly we find more and more excuses to hold us back.
The situation is compounded if the break happens around the time of the ‘soggy middle’ – the mid-point crisis when our enthusiasm for the novel has already begun to waver. That point when you have great doubts about the whole enterprise. The characters lack depth, the plot is going nowhere, the spark has gone and the language laboured and uninspired. The daily word count drops dramatically. Writing is no longer a joy. It reaches the point at which, to quote George Orwell – ‘writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness.’
Though we writers may write principally for our own pleasure we would all dearly love to be read more widely and for our work to be enjoyed by strangers – thus establishing our work has some merit. That first time someone you have never met is prepared to actually pay good money to read your work is like reaching the dizzy heights of Everest. The climb was hard going, the temptation to give up powerful, but the reward exhilarating. You have reached a converted goal.
Writers are an insecure breed
As I was reading Margaret James’ article about courage in April’s ‘Writing Magazine’ this morning, I had to stop and highlight the phrase, “As a standard-issue insecure, and borderline paranoid, author, I’ve always felt writing fiction and putting it out there was akin to taking your clothes off in public.”
I’ve just come back from a great weekend at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. I confess I am something of a junkie when it comes to writing conferences and festivals. Why? Because they are FUN! They may provide an excellent learning experience, the opportunity to network with other writers even agents and to rub shoulders with favourite authors and some of the big names in the literary world, but I love them because I always have such a great time.
Over the years, I have attended writers’ get-togethers at the Winchester Conference and the Writers’ Holiday plus a couple of Avon courses. I’m lucky that my home town of Swindon runs what has now become a two week literature festival, and the Cheltenham Festival is also within easy reach.
Fire your enthusiasm
I first went to Winchester some fifteen years ago and when I got back home, I told my non-writing husband what a great time I’d had. When I eventually stopped gushing and he managed to get a word in, he asked if I planned to go again the following year. I thought for a second or two and then replied only if I could earn the money to pay from it by selling my writing. That was the beginning of my determination to be a real writer. To produce something that people who didn’t know me would be prepared to actually pay for. Continue reading
My aim is always to write a novel in a year though things never quite work out like that. During the actual writing stage, I’ve always keep a record of my daily word count, but this year I started writing the latest book on January 1st. An excellent opportunity to get myself organised and set goals for the whole year.
MAKE YOUR GOALS SMART
Adopting the SMART principle, a realistic daily word count for me is around 500 words. Allowing for life (holidays, social events etc) getting in the way as it so frequently does, I’ve set myself a target of 2,500 words a week – 10, 000 a month, which meant I should be able to write a first draft in 9 months which should be easily doable. True, that only gives me 3 months to redraft, get feedback and publish – a tall order, but I’ll deal with that when I get there!
Many of my friends write 2-3,000 words a day. That may well be possible if you have already spent weeks, even months drafting a detailed plan and much of the time-consuming research, but that’s not the way I work. I know my main characters – tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones – the country where I set the story and have some idea of its theme and where I want to end up. For me, the fun is writing to find out what happens. Yes – it means I write slowly, frequenly discarding whole passages when a better idea comes along and I need to research as I go along, but after 9 completed novels, 6 of which are published, it’s the way I work best. Continue reading
Fiona Mason’s hopes of leading a pleasant culture tour of Belgium visiting the great centres of Flemish Art go badly awry. One of Fiona’s passengers is found dead soon after the assassination of a British MP at a rally outside the European Parliament Building in Brussels. Could there be a link between the two deaths?
Once again, Fiona finds herself at odds with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones who always appears to have his own agenda.
Writing Blood in Chocolate proved to be quite an adventure. I am one of those novelists who writes to find out what happens. I’m no plotter. I enjoy the journey. Continue reading
Indie crime writer, Henry Jay Forman (author of Poisonous Science) was over from Los Angeles on holiday in England and we were able to meet up in Salisbury. Henry and I are Facebook friends and he invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour (see my post for July). Surprise, surprise, our discussions were mainly about writing!
Henry has been approached by a publisher who would like him to re-write his novel in the first person. According to her, that’s the current trend. It a tall order! How do you cope with the scenes where the protagonist isn’t present? Surely it’s easier to write another novel then completely take an existing one totally apart.
My experience was the opposite! Ten years ago, when I was writing my first novel, I was told by three different agents to change it from first person to third. I was not a happy bunny! It was only after the third request that I reluctantly rewrote the novel. The only consolation I could take from the experience was the conviction that I could never have written ‘All in the Mind’ in the third person in the first place. I needed to stay in Sarah’s mind and experience her feelings.
All this has led me to think about POV. Continue reading
I’d like to thank fellow crime writer Henry Jay Forman for inviting me to take part in a blog tour where we writers share the process of how we write our books by answering four questions. Henry is a biochemist and toxicologist and it will come as no surprise to discover that his novel, “Poisonous Science” revolves around the world of academic toxicology. Find out about Henry’s writing process on his blog.
My Writing Process
What are you working on?
I’m busy working through a second draft of the latest Fiona Mason Mystery ready to send out to a couple of my Beta Readers at the end of the month. Up until recently, the working title of this novel, which is set in Belgium, was ‘Blood, Lace, Chocolate and Chips’ but I’ve decided that it was too long for an Ebook when the cover is reduced to a thumbnail so it’s now it’s called ‘Blood and Chocolate.’
This is by far the most complicated novel I’ve written so far. One of Fiona’s passengers is fatally injured in the pandemonium that breaks out after the assassination of a British MP speaking at a rally outside the European Parliament Building in Brussels. His autopsy reveals that he was murdered. Two different murders with two different sets of suspects, but are they linked? Continue reading