Writing a Book: Week Four – Getting Creative

My first draft is MESSY! Really messy!

Yesterday I decided to change the plot extensively. It was too predictable. Everything felt like it had been done before. The plot felt OK when I did the synopsis but when I came to actually writing the scenes, I found I was getting bored and that wasn’t a good sign.

So, I gave my characters free rein. One of them decided to marry the bad guy – which definitely wasn’t in my original plan – and a new point-of-view voice emerged. My main characters also aged a decade. They might go back to being younger at some point.  

I’ve lost control of my story!

But I think that’s a good thing. It’s alright having a plan, but if it’s not working, then you just have to throw it out of the window and see what happens. There is no point in resolutely sticking to a plan that you know isn’t right.

Life has taken over a bit this week and as a result, I have slipped behind on my schedule. I had planned to write the first 20,000 words of the first draft by the end of August, but I have only managed 16,028.

I am not overly worried about this. I have redone my schedule so instead of aiming to finish the first draft by Christmas, I have given myself another month. As this book is not under contract, this isn’t a problem. Hopefully I will now finish the first draft by the end of January 2023.

Writing a book, week 3: developing characters

This week I have been mostly working on and thinking about the main character (MC) in my novel.

At the moment, my entire story is told from a single point of view, which is unusual for me. There are two timelines, so my character is talking in the past and in the current day (and at times, when she was a young teenager) so in total there are three voices, all belonging to the same character. I am trying to make these voices different because circumstances have changed her outlook on life. All of them are written in close third person.   

There are lots of personality quizzes you can complete online to develop your characters, but I find the best way to get to know my characters is just to write and think like them as much as possible. I often do ‘free writing’ where I will write as my character about what is happening to me or something that’s in the news. None of this goes into the book, but it helps me get a feel for their perspective on things and find out what they care about.

I also like to write out a character’s whole life story from when they were born (including details like their parents, siblings, grandparents) until the day they die even if that is not in the book. I like to know everything I can about their whole life before the action starts. This includes things like what kind of clothes they wear or what music they like.

I don’t spend a lot of time describing the physical appearance of my characters, unless it is relevant to the plot. I think most readers prefer to use their imagination but if I have written that they have blonde hair or green eyes, I make a note of that to make sure I am consistent.

A question some writers ask is ‘what does my character want?’. They then make it increasingly difficult for the character to achieve it. This creates conflict. Another question is ‘what does my character need?’ which is often different from what they think they want. That creates resolution because at some point they will have to give up what they desire for what they really need.  

I have had a few moments of doubt this week, largely because I feel like I don’t know much about the setting of the novel and need to do some research. I have tried to power through my doubts as I know I can work on that in the editing. For now, it’s more important to get those words down!

Progress week 3: 12,010 words

Writing a book, Week One – the blank page

Is there anything worse than staring at a blank page? You have all these ideas but the minute you open that notebook or Word document, you don’t know where to start.

I think the main problem I face when starting a book is that I want everything to be perfect. I want that first line to be brilliant, quotable even. I want that opening page to shine. But usually at this point I just have some random thoughts that have no coherence. I don’t want to make a mess of that first page.  

The solution to the blank page? Start writing. Don’t worry about the quality. You can come back and fix that later. Don’t worry if you’re not starting at the beginning of the story. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make much sense. Just write whatever comes into your head. It may not make the final cut but that’s fine. The important thing is to get the words out.

Tell yourself this is draft zero, the ‘vomit draft’, and that everything will be edited many, many times. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to exist.  

I started my new book on Monday, 1 August. It’s a novel I first started writing in 2018 but I abandoned it after 30,000 words. I know where I went wrong and my main character – Kelly – has been in the back of my mind ever since, wanting me to tell her story.

So how do you start a novel? Well, every writer is different, but I started by re-reading some craft books. My favourite is How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermason. I don’t follow this method to the letter but it’s the one that works best for me. You alternate working on your plot and developing your characters so when you get stuck on one you shift over to the other. You also start with the synopsis and then expand out which works for me as I don’t always write chronologically.

I also like Stealing Hollywood: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff. Sokoloff recommends the four-act structure which is similar to a three-act structure but with a significant midpoint.

This time around, I am reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This was recommended by a writing friend of mine and it’s the first time I’ve read it. It’s a bit intimidating but it is making me up my game.  

The first thing I did was sketch out what I know about the plot so far and the main characters. I sort of know what is going to happen at the beginning, middle and end although I’m not 100% sure how I am going to structure the story yet. There are three chunks of time in the novel and I’m not sure whether to present them chronologically or have two timelines running concurrently. I’m going to worry about that later.

I put together 20 plot points which will take me from the start to the end, but I may move things around a bit. This is enough for me to start writing. 20 plot points is 20 scenes and, at around 500 words each, that will give me the first 10,000 words. I will then go back and expand each scene and add others in between.

I don’t always start writing at chapter one. I write whatever interests me at the time, so I may write later scenes, but I do try to keep them in some sort of order.

I write in a Word document, and I label each scene with a heading so I can easily move them around. Some people use Scrivener for this, but I prefer Word. I usually number my scenes but for some reason, I want to name them this time. That may well change, but it feels right for this book at the moment.

I am aiming for 4,000 words a week, but I managed 6,175 words in my first week. This was largely because I transferred some across from my original draft. I knew I wanted to keep at least two scenes even though the rest of the book is going to change. At this stage I am not doing much research, but I keep a running list of what I need to find out about.

In between writing sessions, I keep a notebook with me at all times, and every time I have a spare 20 minutes or so, I sketch out ideas. Sometimes these are lists of things I want to include, or they might be snippets of conversation between the characters or free writing when I write whatever comes into my head.

I am aiming to complete this first draft before Christmas (4,000 words a week for 20 weeks) but I know other things will get in the way, so I just have to hope for the best! 

The Wedding Murders has a new cover!

My second novel, The Wedding Murders, has a new summer jacket!

I must admit I loved the old cover with its bright colour contrast but I think the new jacket is a closer reflection of the story. I particularly love the discarded high heels!

If you love closed-door mysteries, lots of 90s nostalgia, and a fast-paced plot, check out The Wedding Murders on Amazon UK or Amazon US

It’s also available as a paperback from Waterstones.

A COVER AND A NEW TITLE FOR BOOK TWO!

You’re invited to the wedding of the season…but you might not live to tell the tale!

The cover of my second book was revealed on social media this week and I love it!

I love the striking contrast between the red, white and black. Coincidentally these were the colours of my own wedding which makes it extra special.

Some of you will know that I originally called the book The Wedding Guest, but the title was changed after discussions with the publisher, One More Chapter.

The Wedding Murders features Libby Steele, a plus-one at a celebrity wedding. She’s the guest of her boyfriend Matthew who used to be in a Britpop band with the groom. It’s the first time the band have been reunited since their acrimonious split in the 90s and Libby soon realises they all have secrets to hide.

When a bridesmaid goes missing just hours before the ceremony, Libby suspects there’s a killer on the loose…

I was lucky enough to get an endorsement from the amazing Sophie Hannah which blew me away. This is what she said about the book:

‘This gripping murder mystery will keep you riveted from start to end. Fans of Lucy Foley and Agatha Christie will love it.’ 

You can’t get much better than that! But here are some of the other lovely endorsements I’ve received from published authors:

‘An intensely compelling, riveting story with a nail-biting climax!’ Abby Davies, author of Mother Loves Me

‘A fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns’ Sophie Flynn, author of All My Lies 

‘A gripping tale with plenty of twists and turns making for a most enjoyable read!’ Roz Watkins, author of The Devil’s Dice

I really enjoyed writing this book. It will be published as an ebook in February 2022 and a paperback in April 2022 and is available to pre-order now.

If you’re a book blogger, you can request a review copy on Netgalley.

The Road to Publication: Remember, the first draft is always sh*t

Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just start writing and everything that came out of your head arrived in beautiful prose? That the ideas just kept flowing, and it all made perfect sense? How do other writers find it so easy?

The answer is they don’t. Most of the work to produce a novel comes after the first draft, in the seemingly endless rounds of edits.

The best piece of advice I ever received about writing was from a tweet by Caitlin Moran describing her first draft as ‘word vomit’. The idea that a first draft is always sh*t is quite reassuring.

The problem is that you are probably comparing your first draft to a published book which will have gone through several drafts and editorial stages. The finished product on the shelves looks very, very different from the first draft on your computer.

So, let your characters change age, name and gender half-way through. Relax when your setting changes from the South of France to Southport, when your plot veers in strange directions and hangs on unlikely coincidences, when you’re convinced that what you’re writing makes no sense whatsoever and never will.

In your first draft you can leave out scenes altogether and skip to the more interesting parts. You can add backstory that you know you will end up cutting. You can type XXX when you need to do some research. You can bring characters back to life if you killed them off too early. You just have to keep going!

I am nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I hope to have it completed by the end of January. And it is very much ‘word vomit’. It’s not something I would ever let anyone read.

But it’s easier to edit 80,000 of word vomit than it is to edit a blank page.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

The Road to Publication: Writing a first draft

I am currently writing the first draft of Book Three, as yet untitled.

Every writer is different, but I usually take around six to eight months to write my first draft. I aim to write 3,000 words a week for around 30 weeks, but life sometimes gets in the way.

I started writing my first draft on 1 July and so far, I have written 24,000 words so I am about on target to finish by the end of January / early February.

I will then take a break for around six weeks while I do some research before tackling my second draft. It’s usually after the third draft that I feel comfortable showing it to anyone.

You may have heard of ‘pantsers’ and ‘planners’ but I’m neither. I like to have an outline to work to, but I don’t plan my books too much before I start. Otherwise I feel like I have already written it and I quickly lose passion for the story. Likewise, I can’t just start writing with no idea where I’m heading so pantsing doesn’t work for me either.

I like the snowflake method of writing. If you haven’t heard of it, there is a very good ebook available which explains the method. You basically alternate between developing character and plot and work from the very essence of the novel outwards, writing and plotting as you go.

I have also recently read Save the Cat, so I am trying to structure my book according to the 15 story beats. A lot of writers struggle with a ‘flabby middle’ (where nothing really happens in the book), so I think it’s important to have a good midpoint twist. I’m quite excited about mine!

I’ll keep you posted how I get on!

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Places that inspired ‘The Trip’

In October 2017, my husband and I embarked on a backpacking trip around South-East Asia. It was a place we had visited a few times before but always on holiday. We sold our house, gave up our jobs and spent seven months exploring Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore.

In my backpack was the first draft of a novel, which was then called The Pact. A psychological thriller about a student who goes backpacking with her friends after leaving university and is involved in a tragic death. Five years later, she receives a photo that proves she lied about what really happened that night…

The story (and the title) had changed quite a bit by the time my novel was finally published in February 2020, but I hope these photographs give you a flavour of how our travels inspired the novel.

If you want to read more about my adventures, please visit my travel blog: www.diaryofamiddleagedbackpacker.com

Cambodia

The characters visit the ancient temple of Angkor Wat
Holly and George go out in Pub Street in Siem Reap. The bar that features in the novel is fictional.

Vietnam

The characters take a boat trip around Halong Bay. We didn’t visit this area on our backpacking trip but we took the same boat trip in 2015.
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
Hoi An in Vietnam – another significant scene in the book. Holly and George take a trip along the river in one of these canoes.

Thailand

The Beach in the novel is fictional but I imagine it to look a bit like this.

Yorkshire Dales

Holly lives in the Yorkshire Dales. The village in the book is fictional.