Friday, 10 January 2014

Characters or Plot?

Creating convincing characters is an important part of novel writing. But which comes first? Characters or plot?

If I am writing a one-off novel or the first of a series I will create the plot first. Then I will design the characters to fit the demands of that plot. I find that much the easiest way to do it.

When I come to write the second novel in a series I have no option but to begin with ready-made characters from the first book. Now I have to work the plot around those characters, and that's not so easy. I may want them to behave in a certain way in order to make the plot work, but the way I originally designed those people may make that behavior impossible. They must behave according to the character traits I gave them.

That's the problem I had to work on when I wrote the plot for the sequel to In Foreign Fields. My characters were fully formed from the first story and the plot had to accommodate them.

So my plot-line for this second book started out with two main constraints. The first was the ready-made characters. The second constraint was what actually happened back in October 1914.

All of this is part of the reason why I use a story development system.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Working on Book Two

I’m now twenty five thousand words into Book Two of my WW1 series, and it isn’t an easy one to write. This story runs from the Siege of Antwerp up to the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914. I have to marry together what actually happened in 1914 with the plot line of this novel. I also have to keep true to characters that were created for the plot of the first story.

I want these stories to depict the progress of that war in order to inform readers who might otherwise know little about it. So many readers would never pick up a non-fiction book but will happily enjoy a novel, and learn from it. That’s why it’s so important for novelists (and film makers!) to get things right. I have numerous non-fiction books to help me. I have also managed to access, via the internet, reports by American war correspondents. Being neutral in the early stages, they had valuable access to people and places other were denied.


Friday, 3 January 2014

In Foreign Fields

It’s now 2014, almost one hundred years since WW1 began in August 1914. My grandfather, a territorial soldier, was one of the first to cross the Channel to fight in that war. He was badly wounded twice and had shrapnel embedded in his chest to the day he died. Unfit to go back to his old job as an electrician in the Yorkshire mines, he travelled the country during the depression looking for work. He wasn’t the only one of the family to suffer because of his injuries. I recall hearing how my grandmother had to sell her mangle to pay for the family to move south. By the time of the Second World War, my grandfather was working in Devonport Dockyard and my grandmother had another mangle. That was where my parents met during that war. I had good family reason to want to write about that First World War and the terrible effect it had on the men who took part in it.

I began my research with the opening days of the war, the retreat from Mons, the Schlieffen Plan and the German advance across Belgium. I learned about the brutality suffered by the Belgian population, especially in the city of Leuven. It was an illuminating experience and taught me far more than I would otherwise have learned. I think I now understand far more about it than the simplistic concept I once had, a concept of muddy trenches and soldiers badly led. By the time I finished writing book one, “In Foreign Fields” I felt compelled to keep writing, to keep on telling the story as I now saw it. These past few weeks should have been a seasonal holiday, but I have been using my time to build up the manuscript that will eventually become book two, “In Line of Fire.”