Friday, 24 January 2014

Falling in love...with a story - Liz Kessler

There’s something about the early stages of writing a book that is like the beginning of a relationship.

You think about it all the time, wake up excited and full of ideas about what you can do together. Everything you do relates to it and you want to talk about it all the time, but also want to keep it special and private just for you. And of course, there is the ever-present worry about whether it will all work out.

That’s where I am right now – and it’s both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Added to this is the fact that this new book will be the sixth in a series (a new Emily Windsnap mermaid book). I guess that makes it like being at the start of a new relationship with someone you know really well.

Which has its good sides.

For a relationship, this might mean that you’re already comfortable enough to hang out in your scruffs together, or you already know how they take their coffee, you already share lots of secrets and if one of you accidentally belches after your dinner, it’s not the end of the world.

With a book, it means that I know my characters pretty well, too. I know how they talk, how they behave.  I know their little quirks. Throw them into a new situation and I have a half-decent chance of figuring out how they will each respond.

For example, let’s say a shark is following them in their boat – and the engine has just died. Emily’s mum, Mary Penelope, will freak out a bit. Her dad, Jake, will take charge and act all brave but won’t really have a clue. Mystic Millie will probably try to hypnotise the shark into submission. Shona will find it cute. Mr Beeston will almost certainly have set the whole thing up – and of course Emily will be the one to do something crazy/brave and save the day.

If we go back to the relationship analogy, the one where I’ve just got together with someone I’ve known for years, knowing how they tick would be nice. Having an idea how they'd respond in a given situation could be helpful.

The thing about writing a book, though, is that YOU are the one who has to come up with the situations. You have to think them into existence, dream them up, chip away at the block of stone to discover them inside it, or whatever. Whichever philosophy of creating plots you subscribe to, the point is the same: it’s down to you to figure it out. And it needs to be interesting, exciting, enthralling, thrilling, engaging.

Oh, and don’t forget the deadline. Which is in eight months.

So, not much pressure then.

While we’re at it, let’s add to this the fact that your story doesn’t like to feel hurried. It needs space and time. You need to carefully explore tiny sparks of ideas and see where they lead; you need to make lots of mistakes, create an atmosphere of spontaneous creativity, indulge freely in following your imagination and seeing where it leads. You need to give your story room to breathe.

It’s a pretty tricky balancing act, now I think about it. Going back to the ‘new relationship’ analogy, it feels a bit like needing to give yourself up to the freedom and openness and vulnerability that go hand in hand with falling in love – but at the same time asking for a major commitment and a certainty that it will all work out.

So, yeah. It’s complicated. And yeah, it’s hard. But – like falling in love – those early stages with your new book have a special kind of magic about them that somehow trumps the difficulties. Every tiny idea is, at this point, a possibility. Every new avenue is waiting to be explored. Your mind is filled with thoughts and plans and hopes and schemes. It’s all there to be discovered, and anything could happen. It’s a tiny spark of light in a brand new room.

Chuck in a publisher drumming their fingers and looking at their watch and a bunch of readers who already know what they want to happen next, and the spark of excitement can at times feel like a lit fuse. But I have to say, I love it. That moment before it has all really started happening. When it’s all in my hands. My characters and I coming together to start a new adventure, where anything could happen. As far as day jobs go, it’s pretty hard to beat.

And so, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off out with a notebook. 

My story and I have a date.

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Heather Dyer said...


Joan Lennon said...

"You need to make lots of mistakes" - see, I've got that bit nailed!

Happy writing!

A Wilson said...

I love this post! I know exactly what you mean. I am at that stage. Throw in a bit of paranoia too - is this story really "me", will we get on, will it work out…. ARGH! Happy writing, Liz.