Saturday, 26 May 2007

Free time? What free time?

I'm off on holiday for a week, visiting Devon, the setting for Her Parenthood Assignment. With wonderful timing, the proofs for English Lord, Ordinary Lady have arrived on my doorstep this morning. I think I might have to take them with me. Grrr.

It's certainly going to be a working holiday. I'm taking my laptop so I can carry on with the current work in progress, and on Wednesday I'll be catching the train back up to London for the RNA's Summer Party. If you see me there, say hello, and please don't heckle my speech after the New Writers' Award is given out!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

More about the journey

I've been thinking about my plot board in the last few days and wondering why I feel the obsessive need to mess around with cards and pins and a cork board. I do have a stationary fixation –I always had to have my felt tips in rainbow-coloured order at school – but it's more than that.

At the beginning of a book, when the ideas are flying round and I have no idea of which ones are going to work and which ones are going to get axed, I find it very handy to pin these "flying" thoughts down before they flutter off into the atmosphere, never to be seen again.

However, once I have passed the halfway point in the book, I hardly ever look at my plot board again. Maybe by then the choices have been narrowed down and that helps me keep the picture of where the book is going in my head. I also think that maybe my plot boarding is more to do but the process than the finished result.

Somehow, the journey of pinning those little cards on the board and organising my thoughts galvanises me to write and helps me make sense of the scraps of ideas that come to me in the middle of the night, while I'm walking to work and especially in the bath. Where do you get your best ideas?

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Plot Board revisited

Okay, I know I said I was going to block a bit more on the Hero's Journey, but before I get into that I'm going to go off on a tangent and talk about my plot board. I'd kind of half-decided not to use it with the current book, but then I read India Grey's blog post (see "Glamour Hangover" ) mentioning it and I thought I would give it another go.

Basically, I'm the sort of person that thinks in pictures. I'm much better at retaining information if I can see it, for example, written down, or if I can visualise it somehow in my head. If I receive complex information only by listening, I often miss or forget some of it. Perhaps this is why I am absolutely awful at remembering names and much better at remembering faces.

Anyway, when I was first starting to try and write a novel, someone somewhere suggested writing the numbers 1 to 20 down on a page and putting the main plots points from your story on the list. I found that approach useful in helping me guage at which point in the story some of my ideas should go, but every time I changed my mind about what was going to happen I had to scribble it all out and start a new list. So I decided to make use of a spare corkboard and some index cards I had tucked away in my house.

Every time I do a plot board, I take a different approach, trying out new things. Here are my original posts (post 1 & post 2) about it. Since then I've tried reducing the plots cards to one central row by snipping the cards in half. It was great to see the flow of the story from the top of the board to the bottom, but I found I didn't have enough room at the edge of each plot card to put all my little "idea" scraps of card. So, this time I've come back to the original format with two rows of full-size index cards containing the main points of my plot. I’ve also messed around with the colour scheme – inspired by the fact I was starting to run out of large pink cards!

White cards – on these I write the central plot points. For my latest book, the first one reads "Fern's friend challenges her to say yes to every question she is asked for a week". This leads to Fern being roped into doing a charity bungee jump because she can't say no, so the next cards reads (not surprisingly) "Fern is tricked into doing a bungee jump”. As you may be able to see if you look closely at the photogrpah, at the moment I know what's happening in the first act and the third act but the middle bit of my story is scarily blank. Whoops.

Pink & blue cards – one of the most important things I use my plot board for is for mapping out the hero and heroine's character arcs and working out what they are feeling/struggling with at each point in the plot. I used to do this all on the same coloured cards, but this time I decided to use pink for the heroine's and blue for the hero's.

Yellow cards – these are my little flashes of inspiration. It could be a point about the character or a possible idea for the plot, the little details that come to me every now and then that help flesh out the story. I tend to use these more for an idea to do with a fixed point in the story, for example: "Josh suggests doing something dangerous and Fern is proved right".

Green cards – these I've used for theme and general points that have relevance throughout the whole story, for example: "Fern finds it hard to live in the moment; Josh finds it hard to do anything but."

I'll probably change it all around next time I do it, but I'm glad I persevered with it for this book. It helped me get a clear idea of the story in my mind as I started to write and I find that scribbling down little ideas and character details and pinning them on my board often sparks my imagination and I come up with even more ideas.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Bom chicka wah wah

My husband and I have been together for almost 20 years now (the anniversary of our first date is at the end of this month) and he can still make me laugh so hard I can't even breathe.

Last night I was tidying up the bedroom when he returned from the bathroom (clothed, I might add) and presented his newly-shaven cheek to me. I made the appropriate appreciative noises because, lets face it, who likes being kissed and sandpapered at the same time?

"No!" he said, looking offended, "I was waiting for something else."

Now, I had noticed that he smelled of more than plain old soap and water, and then said, "Where's the song?". The penny dropped. He'd obviously used some of the Lynx bath gel he got in his Christmas stocking the year before last. I'm not sure which countries the Lynx (or whatever it is called where you live) ads are shown, but take a look at this and you'll know what I'm talking about.

I laughed so hard I almost passed out and then, just because he's daft and funny and put has up with me for almost two decades, there was only one thing left to say...

I did a rather convincing rendition, even if I do say it myself.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

The hero's Jounrey - revisited

Last week I was ticked off by Liz for not posting on the rest of the hero's journey. They were two reasons why I trailed off on blogging on the subject. Firstly, Her Parenthood Assignment had just been released and I wanted to blog on the background ideas, characters and setting. Secondly, I was having a bit of a love/hate thing with the hero's journey as I revised the current work in progress.

I had used it to help plot out English Lord, Ordinary Lady and, although I had tried to apply the principles to both the external and internal journeys, I'd ended up with too much plot. I had wanted to explore the relationship between the heroine her daughter more, but had run out of room, as the book had already gone in 2000 words over the 55,000 word limit.

It took my clever editor to point out that I should just cut a lot of the first few chapters and replace what I cut with scenes to up the emotional story (lots of forehead slapping went on at this point). The first three chapters had, quite frankly, been a huge pain in the bottom ever since I'd started writing the story. I had written them and rewritten them and rewritten them and I still wasn't getting it right.

The backstory contained there was relevant to the present day, but just needed trimming in favour of scenes that tapped into the emotional heart of the story. I learnt a good lesson in writing for the Romance line editing this book: never ignore the emotional hotspots in your book. In fact, if you can find an emotional angle that you haven't explored deeply, you need to do so. Mine it. Milk it. But not so much it becomes melodramatic. Easy to say, harder to do in practice.

Anyway, before I get all excited about another new book I'm reading, I thought I would finish blogging about the hero's journey. Here is a recap on the steps of covered so far with a link to the relevant posts here (start at the bottom of the page and work upwards):

  • The ordinary world – the hero's ordinary life before they embark on the adventure that is to follow.
  • The call to adventure – the trigger or catalyst. The moment when something happens to change the hero's life and throw them into a state of turmoil, forcing them to take action.
  • The refusal of the call – the adventure is going to test the hero to his very limits. He is right to hesitate. He may even refused outright until the stakes are raised and he is forced to go on willingly forward.
  • Meeting with the mentor – preparation for the quest may come in the form of a person to help and train the hero.

I'm at the beginning of a new book & going to ask myself the questions for each of these steps again, but this time I've learned my lesson. For a short romance, it's important to keep tightly centred on the hero and heroine and their emotional journey and that's what I'm going to map out this time – and try to keep the external plot in the background.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Gardens of Delight

The family and I had a day out in Kew Gardens on Sunday. I'm desperate to set a book there but, as yet, the right characters and the right situation have not popped into my brain. Watch this space...

Anyway, there are some wonderfully romantic locations within the boundaries of the gardens. The fantastic Victorian glasshouses are probably one of the first things someone thinks of if they know anything about Kew Gardens. The Palm House is full of exotic plants and little sprinklers mist the air to keep it hot and humid. Could be a good location for a romantic clinch! Things might get hot and steamy in a completely different manner...

I have a couple of favourite spots around the gardens. I've been waiting for two years to see the wisteria that winds around a large iron gazebo in flower. On Sunday I got my wish. It looked truly stunning with the lilac petals dripping from the creeper inside and out of the metal structure.

Once inside, you are half-hidden from the world outside and the air is thick with the scent of the flowers. A low wooden bench curves around one side of the gazebo – the perfect place for a romantic moment.

I've also been waiting to see the bluebells in flower in the conservation area. There is something very English about the carpet of bluebells under leafy oaks, dappled sunlight drifting through their branches. A great setting for one of those lazy, time-stands-still romantic walks.

And just in case you're getting overwhelmed with all this loveliness, I thought I'd finish with a photograph of me in my Royal Botanic Gardens rain poncho/groundsheet. I brought it along to sit on while we had our picnic and my nieces managed to persuade me to model it for them. It's amazing what a giggling pair of teenagers can persuade you to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I'm not going to even mention the cartwheels...