After suffering a number of rejections in a very short space of time, a holiday in Seville was just what the doctor ordered. In my case, literally as I’ve been suffering from a vitamin D deficiency (stupid British weather!).
The holiday came in useful in other ways too. It gave me a break from the mundane, a chance to actually just sit and think. I’d taken with me “The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery”, which some very kind soul bought me for Christmas.
I thought I’d read everything there was to read about planning and plotting and preparing to write. I’m also one of those writers who likes to kick an idea around in my head for a while and then just start throwing words at the page. But so far that hasn’t really worked for me. I tend to find myself stuck in the middle somewhere with my timeline going all awry and even my characters looking confused as to what’s going on.
What this book does is slow you down a bit in the preparation stages, taking time to work on your characters to understand them better before you start on the plot. At first I was sceptical, but as I sat by the pool in the sun reading the book I started to think about how I’d fit the characters in the book I’m currently editing into the patterns suggested, such as writing a monologue from the point of view of each main character and creating a back story for the plot, even if it never makes it into the book. Strangely, I’d never thought of either idea, and when I started to do this (still by the pool, thanks to the Evernote app) I was amazed by how much more I started to realise about my people.
I’d also never thought of beginning a book by looking at the killer first, but bizarrely it works. You find out more links between the killer and each of their victims and why each person ‘has to be killed’.
I’m not convinced I’d be able to keep to only writing at the weekends, but the book really shows what can be done. It seems to take a long time to get to actually writing – you’re not supposed to start the first draft until weekend 14 (of 52) – but when I thought about it, the planning stage encourages you to start writing bits of dialogue, creating scene cards and suchlike which means when you get to the first draft stage you’ve already made a great start.
I’ve been writing for a number of years now but it fascinates me how much there still is to learn. There’s nothing that says you have to take on every bit of advice you read – and I certainly never do – but you can pick and choose which bits work for you.
So, whatever happens, don’t ever give up learning new things and testing new ways of working. You never know what will happen.