Nov 172014
 

Основные RGBLast week, I mentioned that for the past four months I have been busy creating a world and populating it with characters.

Fact is that a story in a book has to take place somewhere and although it’s often made up, this world still needs to feel real to the reader. Actually, it doesn’t just have to feel real, it also needs to be interesting, so that the reader is compelled to stay around until the end of the book.

Creating a real and interesting world is even more important when writing a series. In that case you want the reader to fall in love with the world and eager to return to it time and again. So it’s important to think it all through before the writing starts.
Of course getting a reader attached to a story doesn’t only depend on the world the story is set in. It also depend on the characters and the story it self, but let’s for the moment focus on the world.

My new cosy mystery series is set in Milbury, a fictional neighbourhood of York, which is a real city in northern England. It might have similarities with the neighbourhood in York where I lived myself for four years, but Milbury for the largest part, doesn’t exist.

The world in a mystery series, needs to be thoroughly worked out, as it needs to have enough different settings within that world, where the murders can take place.
In a cosy mystery these settings often traditionally revolve around craft fairs, cricket clubs and the like, and for my first book I have chosen the local allotment society as the setting for murder and intrigue. For subsequent books I have already vague ideas for settings. These include the shop owners association, a cat show, the annual Viking festival etc.

The world in a series also needs to have a regular new influx of people, otherwise, what with the murders and people who commit the crimes, the village or neighbourhood would be quickly drained of it’s inhabitants.

And of course the world needs to be a good setting for the hero to be able to dig deep into the personal relationships of his neighbours and catch the murderer.

It took some time setting up Milbury, but I have a good feeling about it. The neighbourhood is large enough to feel like a village where tensions are kept under the surface with fake smiles and pretend civilities, while at the same it’s big enough to have different settings to accommodate the murder plots.
Now the ‘only’ thing I need to do is write it all down.

Which world in a book or other story has become your favourite?

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Related posts: Last Weekend I Murdered My Victim!

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Nov 102014
 

SurveyorPeople keep asking me, ‘How’s your book doing?’ And I love it when they ask that and show interest, even though I don’t always know what to answer.

People seem to expect that since I started working on my book again in July, I should be at least halfway finished with the manuscript by now. How can I then tell them that in reality, I have not put one word to paper yet. Instead I have been very busy creating a world, populating it with characters, giving those characters lives and backstories. Up to 25 hours a week!

When I started writing fiction, I had no idea about all the things that a writer needs to do before she can start writing. My first draft was not very good, as I hadn’t thought anything through. I’m quite horrified to think what a crappy manuscript I sent to my beta-readers…
No matter, though. It was all a learning process I had to go through and I’m glad I did.

Writing fiction is planning, I find. Even though many writers see themselves more as ‘pantsers’ (as in ‘flying by the seat of your pants’: go with the flow, just start and see where it all ends), I am a real ‘plotter’. I need structure and order. I need to know beforehand where my story is going, before I can put it down on paper. Plotting takes time, but it’s a lot of fun. The pantsers claim that plotting stumps creativity, but that’s not true. Plotting is being creative and using the imagination.

The other day I had a conversation with my hairdresser, sitting in her chair, while she gave me a nice new haircut. Being an avid reader, she had never realised that it can take a long time before a writer actually starts writing the story and was surprised to hear that by now I have been working on my first fiction book for about a-year-and-a-half.
That’s a long time, but the pieces of the puzzle finally are falling into place. Last weekend I murdered my victim! Not yet in words, but I plotted it all out and it felt good.

When people now ask me how my book is doing, I might answer that soon I will be ready to start writing!

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Have you ever wondered how writers acually write their books, or do you just enjoy reading books and that’s it?

Related post: Starting from Scratch

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Aug 142014
 

ShirleyHolmesIt has been a while since my last post and a lot of things have happened since then, mostly to do with the writing of my fiction series.

In May I had finished writing the first two novellas in the series, which had the combined word count of 70,000 words. Both books went through the ‘beta reading stage’ and in June were on the brink of being send to my editor.
Something was wrong, though. Even though the beta readers were mostly positive, I felt that both books could be much better. The plot, the characters, it felt like everything was only 80% there.

After some soul-searching during my holiday, I came to the conclusion that the books simply weren’t at the publishing stage yet. Then a brainstorming session with my developmental editor Eva, confirmed what I deep down already knew. I wanted to start from scratch. Change the concept, find the right genre to write in and rewrite both books.

This might sound crazy, specially keeping in mind I had already written 70,000 words, but my decision felt right. I want to publish the best possible product and simply have to be patient and wait until I am there. No use publishing a book that is only 80% right.

The facts are now as follows:

  • My series will now be a cosy mystery series, revolving around two main characters, Jacob Hicks (neighbourhood warden and amateur sleuth) and Paddy the Rat (keen observer of human behaviour).
  • It might well be that the length of the books turn out more than novella length, although I have no idea about that yet.
  • I want to publish the first three books close together somewhere next year, most likely the autumn.
  • I have also decided that the series will be published under my penname ‘Annie Appleton’, about which more in another post.

I have a good feeling about the changes, even though it means that my readers will have to wait longer for a new book to come out. I hope they will find it worth waiting for!

Go to Jacob Hick Mysteries for more info about the new series.

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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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