Nov 242014
 

SuperdadJacob Hicks is the hero of my new series, and as such he needs to be an interesting character, who is able to carry the story through to its end. Even though the readers don’t actually need to like him (although I hope they do), Jacob has to be interesting and worth rooting for. And this won’t work without giving him a life of his own, almost as if he actually has lived the full 52 years of his life.

The creation of this virtual life is called backstory and writers spent a lot of time creating it and making it as believable and real as possible. The ironic thing is that in a way, the readers never sets eyes on it.
I can hear you think, Why waste so much time creating something that never makes it into the book? The answer is that it’s not a waste of time, but a chance for the writer to create a well-rounded, interesting character.

Backstory is basically the part of the hero’s life before the books starts. This life has shaped who he is. His morals and believes, the way he reacts in certain situations, the way he interacts with other people. Just like we do every day of our lives.
But of course Jacob hasn’t really lived his life. He’s just a made-up character that sprouted from my imagination, so it’s up to me, the writer, to create that life by inventing his backstory.

SurrenderingOther than making Jacob interesting, there is another important reason for backstory.
To have a remotely readable and interesting story, the hero always needs to learn something during the story. Ideally the hero is ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘repaired’. For instance, the hero can have certain phobias or insecurities that stop him facing and beating the bad guy. But as he is the hero in the story, he has no choice but to go through some personal growth, come to terms with his own weaknesses, in order for the book to have a happy end.
Phobias and insecurities might stem from things that happened to the hero in the past, which is why backstory is once more important.

I have written a lot of backstory in the past two months. At times it was easy, other times hard, but in general it has been fun. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I’m coming to the end of it, mostly as it means I get closer to actually writing my book!

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Related post: Last Weekend I Murdered My Victim!

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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 292014
 

interviewIn my previous post, I announced among other things that I’m going to publish my new cosy mystery series under the penname Annie Appleton. Time now to introduce her.
First though, I would like to quickly give my reasons for wanting to have a penname in the first place.

One:
It’s not uncommon for an Indie writer to publish different series, in different genres, under different pennames. This is mostly done to avoid confusing the reader, specially when the genres are miles apart, like ‘romance’ and ‘epic fantasy’. Not that epic fantasies can’t have a bit of romance thrown in (they often do), but in their purest forms these are wildly different genres.
I don’t know if the same goes for non-fiction and fiction, perhaps not, but I did like the idea, to separate my fiction and non-fiction books by using a penname.

Two:
I don’t have a lovely English sounding name. I do have a lovely name, but it is not remotely English and in my opinion, cosy mysteries should be written by people with lovely English names.
Although Americans and Australians might be used to the ‘foreign-sounding’ names of their countrymen, the British, in my own personal experience, have more problems with it. They specifically seem to have problems with the ‘double A’, which seems to be completely alien to them. In the four years that I spent living in the British Isles, I never met a native person who could write down my surname correctly without me having to spell it out for them, and even then, they would often still misspell it.
As my cosy mystery series is placed in England, it is possible that I will have more ‘English’ readers, so to accommodate them, Annie was born.

Three:
My third reason is that writing fiction instead of non-fiction, is a new beginning for me. Something totally different and I’m learning a new trade as I go along.
Writing under a penname requires starting from scratch with the marketing and everything else as well. So it seemed logical to start afresh with a new penname.

So there you have it. My reasons for creating Annie Appleton. Now to the introducing part.

WebThe fact is though that Annie is me, and I am Annie. It’s not supposed to be a secret that Annie Appleton is the same person who wrote those intriguing books about architecture and containership travel.
First impressions do count however (see the second point above), so when readers are less spooked by a ‘weird’ name, all the better. If they then later discover that the cosy mystery they fell in love with was written by a woman with a ‘double A’ in her surname, they should be fine with it. At least, that’s the theory…

How will I put all this into practice? Let me tell you a funny thing about the internet. Everyone wants their website to be first in the Google search results. One way of achieving this is to add regular new content to your site. The handiest way to do this is by writing a blog post.
I have this website on which I jabber on about fiction writing and the more technical stuff that is involved with it. So what can Annie write about? After some thought I have decided that I will let her write the occasional review of the mystery books she reads. Both myself and Annie are avid readers of the mystery genre (including cosies), so it’s going to be Annie’s task to tell the world about what she thinks about what she reads.
In addition, Annie will keep her readers updated on everything that has to do with the content of the cosy mysteries she is writing herself.

The Annie Appleton website is almost ready for its launch, so keep your eyes peeled for Annie’s first blog post!

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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