Dec 212013
 

houseThe above seems like an obvious statement, but as a non-fiction writer who now tries her hand at fiction, it has taken me an awful lot of time to realise it.
How hard can it be to write a fiction story? You just invent something and write it down. Well, it didn’t work like that for me.

After writing two books about architecture and two travelogues, I wanted to write more books. Having had some weird things happening to me while I lived in England, I decided that a series of shorter books, novellas, based on my time in York, was the way to go. However, I didn’t want the books to be travelogues, like before, but fictional stories.

I came up with the story of rats invading the back garden of my main character Emily, much like my own back garden had been invaded by them. I wanted it to be more over the top, though, so I invented parts of story. To me that felt like real fiction.
My beta-readers disagreed. They liked the idea, but felt something was missing. And so did I actually, when I looked at it from a reader’s point of view. So, I added a fictional neighbour with who Emily gets into a fight about the rats. I added action and still more over the top story lines and the rats became main characters in their own right.

All this was a huge step forward, but to me it still didn’t feel right. I was now six months further down the line and it had dawned on me that the series, instead of being about Emily, was more about her neighbourhood, with different people taking on the role of main character in the different books.
And like creating backstories for my main characters to make them real, I also had to create that neighbourhood. However much I could vividly remember myself living in that neighbourhood, it wasn’t the same place! Maybe it looked like it, but it was fictional, not real and I could make it any way I wanted.

That penny finally dropped yesterday. Now I have the task to invent a neighbourhood that feels real, but isn’t. I have to forget about where I lived before and just make it up! And that is a lot of fun. Like my fellow author Des Birch said on Facebook the other day, ‘What unique pleasures we authors invent for ourselves’.

It might feel like I wasted a lot of time over the past seven months, but it is now clear to me that it was a process I needed to work through to come up with the best result. I am sure that with what I learned, I can write the next books much faster and better.

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Related blog post: Making My Characters Real

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Dec 152013
 

woman confusedI had a revelation a couple of days ago. I’m still not sure if it was the result of some clever reasoning of my sub-conscience, or because of all the bottles of cough syrup that I drank this week. Having an ongoing cold is never much fun…

In any case, I now realise that I have been a bumbling fool writing my new book.
‘What?’ I hear you say. ‘You have written five books, so you should know what you are doing by now!’
Indeed, I should. However, the fact is that for the first time in my life I have forayed into the realm of fiction, where before I stuck to non-fiction. And let me tell you, those are two very different puppies.

When I first started writing the new book, I very much treated it as I did all my non-fiction projects. Think up a story, divide that into chapters, write the chapters, book finished. This resulted in the new book being an interesting, but flat story without much depth. Although my beta-readers said they liked it, bless them, they also all indicated that ‘something was missing’.

Little did I know that fiction writers sometimes spend months creating a world and the characters that populate it. They give their characters back-stories that never even make it into the book, just to achieve a sense of reality. Just a few weeks ago on the Indie Writers Unite Facebook group, someone asked what attracted us to a character in a book. Most of the answers were that the fictional beings had to ‘be real’.

I realised that the characters in my book were not real enough. They talked to each other and had adventures, but they were not real. I needed to fix this.
Googling the words ‘character development’ I soon found pages and pages of ‘questions to ask your character’. Finding one questionnaire that seemed to fit the best, I copied it into a word document and started answering the questions as one of my characters. The results were surprising. Just by giving the characters a childhood and back-story, their actions in my book started to make sense.

As I said, I was a bumbling fool. Probably still am, but I am looking forward to finishing the questionnaires for all my main characters. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth to see them come alive.

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