|A writer at Harrogate|
A triumph of hope over experience. Often quoted, this remark is said to be Samuel Johnson's response on hearing of an acquaintance's second marriage. It could also apply to what I'm doing now: writing a sequel to a first novel which has yet to find its audience. I've always been an optimist.
As I’ve blogged about in the past, I discovered to my surprise that I’m a pantser, incapable of planning an entire novel before I write it. I do, though, need to know what crime it centres around, and have an ending to work towards. Book 2 being a sequel, I already have a setting and a readymade cast of characters, bar the ones killed off or otherwise rendered unavailable by events in Book 1.
At the risk of sounding a complete amateur, I admit I enjoy reading how-to-write books, though definitely not the ones promising you can write a novel in an unfeasibly short space of time if you use their foolproof system. If I get stuck (‘blocked’ would be over-stating it) I find reading a textbook prods my imagination into action. Recently I’ve been helped in this way by Jeff Gerke’s Plot versus Character.
Gerke’s premise is that there are two types of writers: those for whom plot ideas come easily, and those more adept at creating characters. I put myself firmly into the first camp, and have thus far shied away from grinding out detailed character biographies as I know many ‘plotters’ do. However, Book 2 requires someone who is only referred to in Book 1 to make an appearance, so I gave Gerke’s ‘layering’ technique for character development a go. And it worked.
From deciding which of the 16 Myers-Briggs personalities he is, to making his personal heroes Bernie Ecclestone and Jackie Stewart, and having him thrown out of agricultural college in his first term, I’ve mapped out Robbie Mackenzie. In the process, how he influences events and reacts to situations has become clear, and his part in the drama will be far bigger. He has also supplied an alternative – or possibly additional – ending to the entire novel.
I can’t promise to create every one of my characters in such detail, but now I have one more tool to use when needed. And this has been a timely reminder that in many ways, but especially as a writer, I also continue to be a work in progress.