Monday, 22 July 2013

Book number ONE, Reality and Research

I’m not a joiner by nature, but a few years ago, notice of a new writing group in town caught my attention. I decided to give it a try, though I had no experience; and no confidence in myself as a writer.

We did a lot of fumbling around in the beginning, trying to find what worked, and fell into writing 150 words, on a given topic, sharing our efforts with the group.

I wrote poetry and stories for children, so writing adult fiction was new for me. Soon I was writing short stories, abandoned the 150 word thing, and let my story go where they needed to go, ignoring word count. I discovered the joy of fiction writing and wanted to write more and more, to challenge myself. I wanted to write a book. Imagine that.

It’s been four years since I wrote that first novel and I recently pulled it out of the drawer to give it another look. Amazing what you find to do during a heat wave when you can’t do anything else.

I’ve learned a lot about writing in these intervening years. I’ve read articles and books on writing, and it’s often said, write what you know, and that’s exactly what I had done. As I worked my way through that first book I was amazed at how much of ‘me’ was in those pages. The story was pure fiction, but my female protagonist and I shared many life experiences.

I didn’t do any real research, but kept to what was familiar. The internet gave me a map of the village I had in mind; and a country drive with a friend gave me the visual for my story’s setting.

This is a photo of the house I used in the book for the lawyer's home and office.

I set up a story binder, for all my character notes, maps, floor plans and photos. As I go along I add notes and ideas. Once the book is done, it all goes in a file, just in case.

Apparently I used a technique in that story that a ‘How To’ book, said never try for your first effort. Unfortunately I read that after I wrote the book.

My story was third person, from the female protagonist’s point of view. I felt her back story was important and wanted to give it more impact. I took the reader back, not in a flashback, but in a time shift.

I put this part in italics, gave the date, and wrote it in first person. I wanted the reader to understand what this woman had gone through, and what could be better that reading it from her perspective, as she lived it?

I thought I’d done everything to show the difference between past and present. There was the change to first person, the date, and the damn italics. My first beta reader was confused, thought it was a journal entry. ****

Okay, on second look, I guess that could be the first thought, but who writes dialogue and such description in a journal. I did a rewrite, but was not willing to give up the time shift idea; I kept the italics, the date, and changed it to third person like the rest of the book.

Each time shift was a natural flow from what was happening in the present. Each journey back gave the reader more of the character’s life story until the past and present merged, and the reader was fully aware of why the character felt and behaved as she did.

I think it works, and it must have been clear as, once the changes were made, there was no more question of it being a journal entry.

The value of having good beta readers who will give you honest feedback cannot be measured. That same reader, who thought it was a journal, also told me the ending sucked. Well, he was nicer, said he felt disappointed, wanted more.

I did a rewrite, again, because he was right. I was so anxious to get the book finished, done, over, I rushed the ending. Lesson learned.

I was proud of that first effort, and did submit it to ONE publisher, and received a very nice rejection letter in return. Hence the book in the drawer thing.

Now that I’ve taken time to read it again, I can see how much I’ve learned in the last few years. The writing group evolved into a group of book and short story writers, and we are constantly sharing information, giving feedback and challenging each other to do more than the 150 word prompts.

I completed the edit/rewrite, and think it’s a better read now. I like Katie, the main character; she’s a woman I can respect, we’ve become very good friends



No comments: