Over on Katrina M. Hart’s blog, I’m sharing the story of how I met my cats by chance, one freezing cold January day. I’d love it if you popped over. Thanks for reading 🙂
Recently I was approached by fellow author and Book Connector Peter Taylor-Gooby about writing a post for my blog. Peter mentioned that he’s a social scientist by day and has a particular interest in what he calls ‘social science fiction’. As I found his ideas intriguing, I said yes. Here Peter tells us about the difficulties he encountered when planning his novel and gives a few tips which helped him along the way.
So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Peter…
What should come first in planning a novel – the characters or the plot?
Writing a novel is like building a house of cards: change one character, realign the plot just a tiny bit and it all comes tumbling down.
As a newbie author I thought I wanted to write plot-driven fiction. My background’s in social science and I wanted to talk about issues of trust and empathy and how market capitalism weakens and distorts them. Imaginative writing is much more fun than writing academic articles (but much harder work). Then I found the characters I’d imagined wouldn’t do what I wanted them to – they’d suddenly say and do things that weren’t in the plot-line and the whole house of cards would collapse and have to be rebuilt.
The next attempt started out from characters. I thought them through, wrote sketches of them and set them off. Again I couldn’t control them. They developed and changed in ways that I really wanted to pursue, but at the cost of demolishing everything. Back to the starting point!
So how do you make your characters do what you want them to? Three possible techniques:
- Write backwards: (I’ve tried this in a number of short stories). You get the characters where you want them with all the loose ends tied up and the twists and turns unravelled and take them back. Problem: you find they couldn’t have been the same people you thought they were when they started out on this adventure. You think you’ve got control because you’ve fixed the end point, but that doesn’t mean you can tie down how everything starts off.
- Shift point of view: if the character starts off in a direction you don’t want, you shift PoV away from them, so you see them from outside. You don’t have to deal with all the internal passions, hopes and feelings that drove them where they are going, they become a smaller part of the world and it’s your new PoV character you are wrestling with. Problem: if you are handling multiple PoVs the reader has to be prepared and the novel has to be structured around that approach. In any case, it’s often the characters you can’t control that are most interesting to the readers – and to you.
- Try and work out what’s going on – why did this character in that situation say and do that? Why did they feel the way did, what were their emotions, their responses to the other characters? Did they change, or was there something else going on that you, the author, hadn’t initially understood? Now you’re getting somewhere (maybe).
These issues bear on how you think about the job of the author. To what extent is writing a matter of describing a world that’s in some sense already out there, of constructing it from one’s own imagination, or of exploring something that you don’t yet fully understand?
Novel-writing involves all three in different mixes. John Lanchester’s Capital, for example, rests very much on our shared conceptions of contemporary London and the plausible lives and feelings and aspirations of a range of people within it. It’s a world we are convinced is there and in a sense is being described, yet the people it includes are real because of Lanchester’s skill in realising them and that involves creative imagination. But it’s much more than simple imaginative creation. The people in the novel develop and the whole created world has a trajectory. The patterns of the novel (the story of the immigrant builder who finds a fortune and gives it up to the rightful owner, or of the aspirant artist who oversteps the mark and ends up in gaol with his life ruined) tell us new things about choice and the value of moral action even within the huge and diverse city, where at first sight anything goes.
So how to handle all this? In my current work I tried to side-step the choice between character and plot. I start with situations – vivid scenes in which people are interacting, which set them off in new direction, conflicts, debates, meetings, ceremonies – and try to get them on paper. Most go straight in the bin, but some are there, with their own life, on the page so powerfully that you can’t throw them away and that’s when you can start on the story. So it’s not a choice between character and plot – both emerge in interaction with each other. After all, how do you know someone’s character until you’ve seen them make choices in real situations?
Thanks very much for that fascinating article, Peter, and for the useful tips as well.
Readers, what do you think? And are you planners or ‘pantsters’? I, for one, agree with Peter that character and plot are intimately intertwined. And I find the idea of using fiction to explore ideas and change people’s perceptions about society to be an intriguing one. I’ll be adding The Baby Auction to my reading list.
Peter’s novel, The Baby Auction, is published by The Conrad Press and is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Baby-Auction-Peter-Taylor-Gooby-ebook/dp/B01IKW9I3O/
It is also available to purchase direct from the publisher: http://theconradpress.com/
This morning I’m over on the lovely Eva Jordan’s blog talking about my writing journey.
This morning I’m over on the lovely Rachel Gilbey’s blog participating in Funday Friday–Truth or Lie. Why not hop over and join me and see if you can guess which three of my answers are lies?
This morning I’m on the lovely Anne Williams blog, Being Anne, talking about the inspiration behind my novel, The Forest King’s Daughter.
Have you been reading novellas this November? I was very excited when the lovely Poppy Peacock asked me to be on her blog to talk about some of my favourite novellas for #NovellaNovember You can read the post here: http://poppypeacockpens.com/2015/11/29/novellanov-favourites-from-kendra-olsen/
Make sure to check out the other novella posts while you’re there. Some fantastic choices have been mentioned!
Today, we have the lovely and talented Claire Morley with us to talk about her experience of self-publishing and how that led to her providing a service to help other authors become self-published.
Firstly a huge thank you to Kendra for another opportunity to post on her blog.
Over the year I was writing my debut novel, Tindog Tacloban, I daydreamed of agents fighting over the chance to represent me and raising fortunes for the charities I support in the Philippines. In my head I built refuges for children rescued from the clutches of human trafficking, with money earned from the film rights.
I’m sure I’m not alone in these hopes for my novel. Of course the reality is despite some lovely rejection letters, my book just wasn’t what agents were looking for. And so to self-publishing. Thanks to Amazon, (and other ebook retailers – Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo – my experience so far is only with Amazon though) this has become a very real alternative for authors. The growth of sales in electronic books has been phenomenal. We are now able to access a book with a couple of clicks of an iPad, PC, Kindle.
Having made the decision to self-publish Tindog Tacloban, I wanted to do it properly. I invested in an online course, downloaded books and researched self-publishing. I spent weeks preparing, to make sure I was going to give my self-published book the best possible chance of success.
The first thing I learned about was how to format a book and create a cover. Next were the options Amazon offer for promoting your book through their programmes, but perhaps the most important thing I learned was how to market a book. It’s all very well uploading your book to Amazon and telling your friends and family about it, of course some of them (and I can assure you not all of them) will buy a copy, but then what?
Well basically, marketing, marketing and more marketing. And these days that means social media – Facebook author pages, Twitter and continual Tweeting, LinkedIn, Pinterest. It means approaching reviewers and book bloggers, organising Virtual Book Tours, offering to write guest blogs, uploading a profile on Goodreads and any other book website and good old fashioned PR.
All of this takes time, quite a lot of time. Most new authors will have busy lives, they’re probably working or parents or both. Basically they won’t have the time necessary to dedicate to marketing their book. That’s where the idea of My ePublish Book came in. Having had the experience and learning from some of the common errors of self-publishing with my own book, I felt I might have something valuable to be able to offer new authors.
Enter my first guinea pig. Anne Hamilton had first been my tutor at writingclasses.co.uk, later becoming my mentor, proof reader and editor for Tindog Tacloban. When I told her about my self-publishing journey she asked if I would be able to help with the re-launching of her book, A Blonde Bengali Wife. Anne liked the idea of having more control over the publishing process, but had little idea of the technical aspects or the promotion. We decided it would make the ideal case study for my new website – myepublishbook.com.
We worked together on building her social media presence, finding reviewers and useful websites, creating author’s pages and generating interest around the subsequent launch. While Anne worked on, in my opinion one of the most critical aspects of self-publishing – proofing and editing – I set up a Twitter account, a Facebook author page and an Amazon account for A Blonde Bengali Wife and started the marketing aspect. I’m very pleased to say all our hard work paid off. Anne achieved bestseller status in all three of the categories she listed the book in and even better, in one of them she reached the number one spot.
The great thing with self-publishing is you have the control and I want authors to retain that. My ePublish book is not a publisher, we’re your support team. We work with the author to provide them with the service they want. Some people have no knowledge of nor interest in social media, we can do it all for you; others may already have accounts set up and be very proactive. We offer a tailor-made service, no two clients will have the same requirements. The idea is that we will work with an author for four to six weeks on marketing and formatting, after which we hand over all control back to them. All through the process we will provide regular reports on progress and at the end suggestions on how they can continue to increase awareness and hopefully sales of their book.
Traditional publishing and finding an agent is competitive in the extreme, especially for a new author. Self-publishing provides a fantastic alternative and I hope My ePublish Book will be able to help authors achieve their dream of seeing their book on sale.
Anne Hamilton’s case study can be found at: http://www.myepublishbook.com/case-study
My ePublish Book website: http://www.myepublishbook.com/home
Claire Morley worked in IT marketing for 15 years before moving to North Cyprus 13 years ago, where she now works as wedding planner.
She wrote Tindog Tacloban after volunteering in the Philippines following the devastation wreaked by typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, which ripped into Tacloban destroying homes and killing thousands. All proceeds from sales of the book go to help charities Claire worked with during her time there.