Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Adding a layer

I've just had one of those moments where I realise that the story isn't going to go the way I thought it would.

This is a remarkable moment, and one which I'm commemorating with a blog post, since I never thought it would happen to me.  Not that it's particularly inspiring that it has happened, since it means a whole lot more thinking and a greater challenge than I had anticipated. For something that already felt like climbing a huge mountain, making it harder isn't something I was after.

It's not one of those moments where a character does something that I didn't expect him/her to do, partly because I haven't actually written enough sequential scenes for the story to be moving along like that. I am planning in great detail, because I am that sort of person. Not for me the sensation of being swept away on a story-wave and seeing which beach I get washed up on - no, I am still holding fast to my protractor theory, and I have just realised that there are several more degrees than I first thought.

Lucky for me that my story-plan protractor needn't have 180 degrees, or even 270 or 360. It can have 192, if I want. Or 214. I call the shots. So there.

I realised I'd left a whole dangling area of the story; something happens to the protagonist, Julia, early in the novel that I hadn't addressed sufficiently in the later parts of the story. I'd left it alone as it's tricky to handle and somewhat controversial, and I suspect if I'm honest I was more inclined to leave it out than commit myself to managing the consequences of her actions. More comfortable, less trouble that way. I imagine Julia would agree with me; but it's not to be. I realise that without tackling it, the story is more lightweight than I want it to be. Less realistic. Also, writing in the event, but not providing something to counterbalance it feels wrong. As well as feeling like a cop-out, it feels as if the story doesn't sit as it should.

So, back to the drawing board - or at least that part of it. Several new scenes need to be inserted. I need to work out how some of my characters might respond to this new twist in the plot. I'm sure there'll be repercussions.

Things suddenly got exponentially more complex, on several levels. Complicated simply because the plot is slightly less straightforward, now, and one of my characters is going to get a huge shock, and he is already, by his very nature, unpredictable. What will he do?  (Seriously, what will he do? I don't know, yet! ) Also, the story now has another layer. It's a bit like an angel cake; I've just slapped another one on top and I've got to make sure that they all fit together without squishing out all the buttercream.

Can I do it?

Friday, 20 February 2015

The need to get it right

Oh, research. I love it.

Really, I love it. I once had a job as a researcher and I would like to boast that I know how to work a microfiche machine. I bet nobody under about thirty-five can say that. I started to try to explain to my nine year old daughter what a microfiche machine was, but soon gave up when she asked if it was a bit like Google. Not really. Still, it's a lost art, and I was a dab hand.

This book has me researching lots of things from modern farming techniques to hunting for mushrooms, train timetables to things that might go wrong with an Aga.

Way back before the children came along I was a hand therapist and I used to make splints for people with a huge range of hand injuries but my information is a decade out of date so I've written to an old friend to see if they can fill some gaps for me because a character in my book is going to need their services.

How long does the average cat live? Just your common or garden moggy?

What's the best way to break into a car if you've left your keys inside (and what model of car that would permit such an oversight in these days of central locking, might still be on the road?)

The perfect soft-boiled egg. Four minutes, or four and a half? What size egg?

Can badgers climb? Can they jump?

Mending a leaky roof? The correct way to prune roses, and when might they flower? How long does it take to milk a herd of cows?

How do you use a twin-tub washing machine?

Got to get it right. I hate it when I read a book and the author is obviously talking about something he doesn't know about, or asserts that something is so when it isn't. On the other hand, I love it when I learn about something while reading a novel; when the author clearly knows her stuff.

I want to know my stuff. If I can't find things out, or find somebody who knows, I'll find another way to tell the story.

In the meantime, I'm having a lovely time with my research.

Image credit:
by Alvimann
Courtesy of
Used with permission

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Needing to decompress

I had a good day today.

Not many words down on the page; in fact I think the net result might be a negative word count because I got rid of so many superfluous passages. I'm trying to work on my 'showing, not telling' and I realise how often I narrate, rather than paint a picture. However, in a waste-not-want-not kind of way, I've squirrelled away all the extraneous bits into a file marked, 'CUTTINGS' so that I might get inspiration there in future.

I did my usual messing about on Facebook and my browse of the BBC news, which now, sadly, has to be done on the computer since they upgraded the phone app so that I can't find anything at all. I surfed for a little while before tricking myself into opening the Word documents and working out where I left off. Before I knew it the clock said almost midday and time for scrambled egg.

It was like swimming up to the surface from somewhere deep below.

I was deeply embedded in my story; making notes of scenes that I already have, scenes yet to be written and trying to link up the back story arc with the main, present day story. It takes a while to get to the place where I'm thinking of the characters, how they interact with each other and how I might go about showing the reader what I want them to see without it being so clumsy that they know what I'm doing and lose interest. When I get there I find that I don't want to leave.

So, swimming up to the surface. I've realised that there's a long transition between my imaginary world and the real one; a bit like a diver having to use a decompression chamber as he comes up from the sea bed.

I emerge, blinking,  from a place in the countryside where birds are singing and a soft breeze blows; where my heroine goes for long walks in her new wellies to my kitchen where the washing machine is beeping to prompt me to empty it and the family is asking 'What's for tea?'

What's for tea? I have absolutely no idea.

Time for some deep breaths.

Image credit: 
PIC1079990928.jpg by rupertjefferies
Used with permission

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Who was in the foyer?

Oh, here's a new one.

As I still haven't really sorted out a structure for this novel, my writing has jumped around a bit. I've allowed myself to pick and choose which scenes I write, and they're by no means in the right order at the moment. I'm quite certain that some will end up being discarded (ouch - really?) and there'll definitely be an awful lot of joining up and jiggling around to do at a later date.

I'm starting to think that the later date had better not be too much later, actually. The reason being that I revisited a scene I wrote quite a while ago and realised that since I wrote it, one of the character names has changed even as she sat in her armchair, doing nothing. A key part of my heroine's backstory had altered beyond recognition, and I don't even remember changing my mind about it.

Another part has my main character arriving to visit her grandmother in a residential home just as lunch was being cleared away in the dining room. Later on, it's half past eight in the morning. That'll be breakfast, then. A time warp.

Not good.

And then there's the scene where a character sits in his conservatory and watches the sun set over the hills. Then, later in the story, he's unable to sleep and watching the sun rise from the same chair... eep.

Name changes are easily sorted, and continuity problems  in terms of 'It was eight years since...' vs 'It was fourteen years since...' can be put right without any problems, but I need to watch out for more serious flaws that affect other decisions that the characters make, or how they speak, or act.

For the sunrise/sunset problem I had to draw a diagram to work out which way the building had better face. I want him to watch the sunrise, I think (or maybe the sunset) so, if that's the case, can the lady who lives across the road see the sun from her kitchen, or her bedroom?

Was it Agnes in the foyer on that occasion, or Maisie?

It matters.

So, another little dimension to keep an eye on. This is multifaceted to the nth degree; so much more complex than a blog post or a short story!

Can I juggle all the strands that I need to juggle? How many balls in the air can I manage before something comes crashing down?

We shall see.