Thursday, 25 August 2005

My first two attempts at writing a novel both ground to a halt after about 25,000 words. I had the plot fully worked out, and I was happily moving my characters around like chess pieces, but I discovered that they were not coming to life. I was bored with them because they were so predictable. My careful plotting (which was hugely constrained by the fact that these were real historical figures) had drained the excitement out of the writing process, and if I was bored with my characters I could hardly expect any readers to enjoy them.

So when I started writing Lord Alexander's Cipher; or, the Bridekirk Behemoth I launched straight into it without any plotting at all. I knew that I was writing a Regency, and I had the opening scene - the heroine waking up in a coaching inn without the faintest idea how she had arrived there - and the fact that there would be an espionage plot in there somewhere, but that was it. I just kept writing for about 30,000 words and whenever I needed a hook to end a scene or a chapter I just stuck in the first thing that came into my head.

There comes a point where this approach stops working; having created a tangle of characters, plots and subplots I needed to resolve them in a satisfactory way. So I started writing the end of the book, so that I would know where all my characters would need to get to, and what they would need to know (and what they must not know) at that point.

Now I am writing the bit in between. I haven't written down an actual scene structure or plot summary, but I know roughly what has to happen as I start each scene. I had been dreading this point - would the constraints of the plot drain the life from the characters as they had done before? On the basis of this morning's writing the answer is "no." Lord Alexander behaved impeccably, and Charlotte neatly moved from showing off her enormous knowledge of elephants (based solely on regular reading of Dr Johnson's Dictionary) to almost giving away her real identity, to telling a story about her pretended childhood that is sufficiently close to a real incident that somewhere down the line her uncle will find out what is going on.

I have to get this all finished by the deadline for the RNA New Writers' Scheme, but as long as it keeps working as well as this, all should be well.


Alex Bordessa said...

Sounds like there's a lot of spontaneity in your book, which should keep the reader guessing!

I just checked the RNA website, and I see they've closed membership for the New Writers' Scheme for this year. Didn't know there was a limit.

Hope you'll be ready for the deadline. Good luck :-)

Stephen said...

I really wanted that spontaneity - there are times when I am writing away furiously because I want to find out what's going to happen next. I hope that that feeds through to the reader.

There is a limit to the NWS because the RNA rules require them to be 2/3 Published and only 1/3 New writers. Also there is only a finite panel of readers willing to review the typescripts.

It is an excellent scheme, and there is always next year.

Douglas Hoffman said...

My first attempt perished after 100K words. I realized I had too many threads flying apart with no way to weave them back together.

This time around, I managed pull everything together, but it was scary. One-third of the way into the story, I realized I had diverged so much from the outline that I was flying without a pilot.

I think I'd have an easier time of it if I wrote shorter novels ;o)

Stephen said...

100,000 sounds like a complete novel to me. Get too far beyond that an publishers get a bit iffy about costs, especially with a first-time author.

Of course there are exceptions.