Thursday, 19 June 2014

Forward Planning

I like to plan my novels in some detail. The strategy worked in my favour when I designed a wonderful character for my novel, The Gallows on Warlock Hill. I planned that she would start out with the appearance of being particularly unlikeable, but would end up as the story’s real heroine. It was partly a case of the character changing her behaviour as the story progressed, and partly a case of the reader misjudging her at the start. Showing a change in her behaviour as the book progressed wasn’t easy because it had to be believable. In order to make it convincing, and keep to the story I wanted to tell, I had to enforce a tight rein on the girl’s actions all the way through the book. I allowed her to break into tantrums when the plot demanded it, allowed her to misbehave atrociously when the plot demanded it, and I allowed her to lower her guard when the time came to reveal the real person behind the mask. Most importantly, I had to carefully plan the chapters in which the various behaviour changes would occur. The changes the reader sees in that character had to come about not too soon and not too slow. There was no room for reliance upon hope and good luck. The book would not have worked had I allowed the development to occur randomly.
I had to keep to my well-defined chapter-by-chapter structure when I wrote that manuscript, and yet the story is alive with raw emotion. Don’t be lured into believing that a tightly-plotted novel will be short on human feelings. They will exist, but they will come to the surface when the writer’s plan dictates, not when the character (or the writer’s sub-conscious) dictates.
If you’re still not convinced, ask yourself what sort of theatre play would you prefer to see? One in which the characters make up the story as they go along? Or one in which they follow the script? For myself I’d prefer the one with a prepared script and a cast who act in the way the director demands. But, you may choose to do things in a different way and I respect your right to do that. After all, it’s your novel.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Successful novelists are not born with a special talent. They take the time and effort to learn how to do it. And they keep practising their skills because success is earned, not given freely.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

One thing I admire in Bernard Cornwell’s novels is the way he is able to merge his fictitious characters – especially Richard Sharpe – into real events. And that’s what I have aimed to do in the second of my WW1 novels. In this case the background is the First Battle of Ypres, October 1914, and the real event is the 2nd Worcester Regiment’s counter-attack on Gheluvelt Chateau. It was a war-changing piece of bravery. With around 350 men, all he had left, Major Hankey launched his assault over one thousand yards of open ground. They lost one hundred men at that point, but the attack continued. Around one thousand German reservists panicked and fled from the scene, and a crucial breach in the British line was plugged. It’s the sort of action Richard Sharpe might have revelled in, had he been alive at that time. Instead, it was one of my fictitious protagonists who went forward with the Worcesters. The first draft of the novel is complete, and so is the first edit, but there is a lot more to do before the book is published.