Friday, 2 August 2013

HANG-GLIDING by the THE SEAT OF MY PANTS or writing without a plot to a tight deadline – Dianne Hofmeyr

So my character looks at his friend and asks: "What if Fabio is caught in the fire?"  
Yes… what if? Because frankly I don’t know. And here I am with a novel that has to be sent in in a few weeks. And all my chapters seem to end with a question. Fine to keep the tempo going and make sure my reader is hooked – but what if I don’t know the answers? It makes getting up every morning to write at 6 am quite an adventure. 

Adventure stories have to have a strong plot firmly in place before you begin is the advice everyone gives. According to James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure it should go like this: 
Rising action, 
forward motion, 
further forward motion, 
further setbacks etc etc 
until a final knock-out ending. 

Still I try to wing it... get up every morning saying, now what? What further conflict can I heap on this boy? Tick… tarantulas, leeches, piranhas, anacondas, Nile crocodiles and a lion. 

Move on to frogs. Ok… so the frog they’re looking for is the phyllobates terribilis commonly known as the golden poison dart frog, which makes it sound fairly innocent and doesn’t quite explain that one drop of it’s sweat is capable of killing up to twenty people. Wipe your eye with your frog-handling gloved finger and you’re dead!

Pile on the conflict… "tension on every page, make it your mantra" says Donald Maas in Writing the Breakout Novel. So I give the boy a dare. He’ll have to dive from the highest waterfall imaginable into a deep dark pool below. No… that’s been done before. Or am I just thinking of that picture on the CD cover of The Mission? In the previous book the boy tied himself to a huge log that was rolling down a storm swollen river. That got me into trouble. If it was rolling, the rope would get tangled, or he’d have to go under with it each time it rolled. What about straight on? Would a log float lengthways straight on? Indiana Jones where are you when I need you?

Tension on every page? What about guerrilla fighters armed to the teeth protecting their patch of coca plantation and a shack laboratory filled with acids that will convert the slush of coca leaves into cocaine? With Google’s help I become an expert on cocaine overnight. Just hope no one is collecting ‘cookies’ on my searches. 

What about a fire? A fire that’s set to destroy the laboratory but instead it destroys the forest. Does Fabio make it out? Isn’t this where I started? 

The book isn’t finished. Not even the plot is finished. But I’ve learnt about the secret lives of tarantulas and anacondas and jaguars. I probably could do a reasonable job of growing coca plants. I know the logistics involved in a mid-air helicopter battle and what NOE (nap of the earth) flying means. I don’t know that a rotor can’t be knocked out of kilter by a handgun. This my clever son points out to me. But I do know one should steer clear of guerrilla fighters. They’re very unpredictable… in real life as well in fiction. I can’t control them!

A friend once said when we were going round in circles in the Okavango Swamps that it wasn’t that we were lost… we just didn’t know where we were going. 

Each morning as I sit down to write, it's the same for me – I’m not lost… I just don’t know where I’m going. My structure’s intuitive. I’m writing the story from beginning to end, bouncing from chapter to chapter by instinct. And if the tension goes out of my writing, there are always the tracks Refusal, Asuncion, Alone and Guarani on the CD of The Mission to get me scared again. 

published by Tafelberg and soon in E-Book format on
published by Tafelberg and soon in E-Book format on 
OLIVER STRANGE & the FOREST OF SECRETS (possibly? depends how I manage) 


Stroppy Author said...

Brilliant - sounds like an exciting ride, Dianne! Hope you both get out alive :-) I do it that way, too, a lot of the time.

Richard said...

Helicopters vs. small arms:

Joan Lennon said...

Yes, the researching can leave a worrying trail - most recently I was finding out how to prepare a sheesha for smoking cannabis and how to make medicine out of mummies. "Perfectly innocent curiosity, Your Honour, er, would you believe I'm writing a book ...?" But surely it would be more sinister if I already KNEW?

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Richard "The Jesus Nut" was truly brilliant! Thank you. Now I know why I can't write thrillers! Are you the "R" in R.Thom Jefferson?

Yes... we'd be definitely slightly sinister if we knew all this stuff, Joan and good to know you also fly by the seat of your pants, Stroppy Author. Makes me feel a little less disorganised!

adele said...

By heck, that's terrifying and I mean the PROCESS! The novel itself sounds like a rip roaring adventure....good luck!

Richard said...

God No. I just found it while researching Jesus Bolt, (and finding its vulnerability to small-arms was a falsehood that had been fed to me by a roleplaying GM.)
I'm no hero, just a wannabe writer that found themselves researching horse language yesterday.(Horse arrives at the dragon crash site and is happy to see his mistress, what does he do? It turns out he nickers.)I am in awe of the authors who got research like this done before the Internet.

Stroppy Author said...

Dragon crash site, Richard? Love it!

Savita Kalhan said...

Wow! Good luck with the novel, Dianne! As for researching on the net - I've discovered it can take you to many places you might not want to go... By the way, I'm not lost either, just looking for the right way out.