Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Is there room for a little magic?

Mel asked:

"I guess my question is what surprises you when you actually start to write the story? What you planned isn't always what happens. So surprises?"

I still totally surprise myself when I'm writing. For me, my plot board is a bit like a journey plan, a route map. I know my starting point. I know my destination (Happy Ever After!). And I know some of the major landmarks (events) and changes of direction along the way (turning points).

You can plan a route in great detail, but it's not until you actually drive that road that you really know what it feels like to be there - what the scenery is like, what little details you will find that you can never discover until you are there in person.

A couple of years ago, my family and I drove from Inverness in Scotland, to the Isle of Skye. We knew we had to go down the side of Loch Ness, take a right at such-and-such a town and keep going along the yellow line on the map until we got to the bridge that took us onto Skye. Part of the route looked something like this (click here to see map). Not very exciting, is it? I'd stick the picture in, but the map is copyrighted, so only the link.

What I discovered along the way were sights like these:

And I also experienced wind that was so cold it felt like knives on my skin, that made the inside of my ears burn when I got back into the warm. We saw deer running over the hillside and watched the winter sun turn dull patches of hillside the most wonderful golds and browns and mossy greens.

Thankfully, writing is about the journey, not about getting to the destination in the shortest amount of time. If it were, every romance book would be only three sentences long, starting with: "Boy meets girl..."

So, when I get into my character's skins and take a journey with them, unexpected things happen. Where I thought I would have a long, straight uncomplicated run, I suddenly find a road block and have to take a detour. Sometimes I discover that the road I thought was the right way is actually taking me in the wrong direction and I have to scrap the map and start again. Other times, the road is just dull, but I glimpse a much a much prettier/dramatic/dangerous route nearby. Some landmarks are worth lingering over, and some are just a blur as I pass them by to visit somewhere that I thought looked dull, but have just realised has become vitally important.

Quite often, the surprises are in the details. The little things that add richness and texture to the book. In "Her Parenthood Assignment", I had no idea Gaby was going to give herself a makeover after she found a video of Luke's dead wife. I knew she was going to feel threatened by the dead wife's memory and I had a little card on my plot board that said: "Gaby finds a home movie of Luke's wife?". That was one of those little detours that suddenly became essential.

Another example of a surprise is in "Break Up to Make Up". I knew Adele and Nick were going to take a journey together in a car that Adele had bought since their split. And I knew that Nick was going to have a fit that she'd sold his beloved jeep, but I didn't know that Adele was going to enjoy being the naughty one, just for once. I giggled with Adele as she waited for Nick to realise...

In my next book "English Lord, Ordinary Lady", I didn't know Josie's wig was going to fall in the soup... And that's all I'm going to say about that! You'll just have to buy it in February to find out more.

Really, my board is just a way of getting all the myriad ideas about the book out of my head (where they are whizzing at great speed and liable to get lost) and tuen them into something visual. I'm a very visual person, so I need to be able to picture things to remember them most of the time. Tell me your name, I'll forget it. But if I see it on a name badge, I'll keep that little memory snapshot with me for much longer.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

It's that time again

Well, since I'm at the start of a new book - and procrastinating wildly - I've hauled my plot board out from behind my desk again. As always, I've had different Idea of how I'm going to lay it out this time. But I'm not sure the actual look of the thing makes a blind bit of difference as I've decided that it's not how the finished article that is important, but the process I go through, ordering my thoughts about the story and getting the key plot points and themes in my head.

Since I've been reading "Story" by Robert McKee and listening to sessions from this year's RWA conference by script-consultant Michael Hauge, I've decided to do something a little more sophisticated (and flexible) than my normal method of pinning on 20 cards with the major plot points of the story. This book, my plot board is all about story structure.

I've clocked up a fair number of "How to.." books on writing in the last few years and, while they all have different terms for the necessary building blocks for a story, there are certain key elements that pop up again and again and I thought I would blog about these as I finish honing the shape of Louise and Ben's story.

I've decided to use Michael Hauge's method of six phases of the story, with 5 turning points (TPs) as transistions from one to the next. Not as many things to remember as Vogler's Hero's Journey and a little more detail than the classic three-act structure.

The whole thing divides up as follows:

  • Set-up (ending with TP1 - Opportunity)
  • New Situation (ending with TP2 - Change of Plans)
  • Progress (ending with TP3 - Point of No Return)
  • Complications and Higher Stakes (ending with TP4 - Major Set-back)
  • Final push (ending with TP5 - Climax)
  • Aftermath

Friday, 19 October 2007

Pink Heart Society

Today, I am blogging over at the Pink Heart Society about my favourite romantic comedy. Wanna come to the movies?

Saturday, 13 October 2007

New cover and blurb!

We've had a postal strike in the UK and I've been eagerly waiting for my hardbacks of my February 2008 release, English Lord, Ordinary Lady. Finally, they arrived today! Along with two other packages of various foreign translations. I got completely overexcited.

So, if you want to pop on over to my website, you can read an excerpt from Josie and Will's story. It's a complete romp and I had a blast writing it.

Here's the blurb:

Wedding at Elmhurst Hall

Will Radcliffe is the perfect English lord. He's handsome and honourable, but a stickler for convention. And he's just inherited Elmhurst Hall...

Josie has never followed the rules. Rebelling against her stuffy, controlled upbringing, she's like a breath of fresh air through the corridors of the grand tately home...

But her new boss, Will, thinks she's trouble!Then one moonlit night Will and Josie share a kiss which, for a moment, makes them feel not so very different after all...

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Still waiting for the click...

Sorry if you popped by here earier and just got dots. Blogger was having a 'moment'. We will now resume our usual service...

I’ve been listening to my CDs of this year’s RWA conference. Rather than picking and choosing and forgetting what I’ve listened to, I just decided to start with CD 1, track 1 and go from there. Well, I’m currently listening to “Tricks of the Trade: Insider Secrets To Getting Published” with Sophia Nash and Kathryn Caskie. They asked different successful authors what their top tips were.

The topic of the dreaded internal editor came up (see previous post!) and there were some great nuggets of wisdom.

“You can’t fix a blank page.” - Nora Roberts.

So true. So true. But the blank page can stare me down and make me run from my computer.

“Give yourself permission to be a bad writer. You’ll feel the click, the joy, when you imagination takes hold…” – Eloisa James.

Also true. But this is very hard for a perfectionist like me. It's a bit like giving myself permission to walk naked in public.

And from the workshop leaders:

“Turn off your internal editor and just write. It will come. Out pace your internal critic…”

Hold on a second! This, I like! As well as being a perfectionist I can also be just a teensy competitive. If I can’t shut her up, I’ll just out run her! I can see myself now, sprinting ahead, checking over my shoulder every now and then. Maybe blowing a raspberry or two…

Scene 2, here I come!

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

First page fear

This always happens. It's time to start the next book: the characters have been growing and becoming three-dimensional in my mind, I have a setting and a general idea of the main conflict. I even have an idea for the first scene, but still I find it hard to get stuck in.

This is the point where my internal editor screams the loudest. What if you can't do it? she whispers. What if all those lovely, rich ideas in your head come out all grey and lifeless on the page? What if this story isn't going to be all you want it to be?

That's the crux of the matter, right there. It's not fear about what my editor would think, or even what readers might think; it's all about measuring up to this strange, nebulous 'feeling' I have about the story. Can I capture it and pin it on the page in black and white characters?

I need to give myself permission to write a duff first scene, don't I? Or even if it's not duff, a less than perfect first scene. Okay, here out for a new word count ticker tomorrow!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


At the moment I am sitting in bed writing this on my laptop. Nope, not in a moment of pink-feather-boaed romance writer decadence, but because I am up to my eyeballs in cold and flu medication and my legs feel like jelly.

And, as if by magic, my proofs arrived. It's like they know when it's the worst time to turn up. Having said that, I'm quite enjoying reading Fern & Josh's story back ("Saying Yes to the Millionaire"). My editor seems to be very pleased with it, so we will just have to see how it does next June when it comes out.