Category Archives: My Writing Process
I love writing dialogue and I include plenty of dialogue in my novels, but I also find it’s one of the hardest parts to get just right.
Writing the dialogue itself isn’t so demanding, it’s padding it with all the necessary contextual information within a novel that causes the problems.
Here are some notes I’ve made for myself to remind me of what I need to think about and do to make my dialogues relevant, vivid, authentic and natural.
Dialogue is a great way to show (not tell) the reader about character and plot.
Think about the purpose of the exchange, and remember that every scene in the novel should:
1) Show character Or 2) Reveal plot
1- Show character
This can be done subtly or specifically, depending on the importance of the character or the aspect you want to disclose.
What does the character say? And how does this show how he thinks or feels about what he’s done or is going to do, or about other characters… Are the characters lying? Purposefully? Inadvertently?
2- Develop plot:
It’s also a great way to reveal plot or add a plot twist (or red herring!).
- Is there something new you want the reader to know? Is it part of the plot? A plot twist? A lie to confuse the characters and/or reader?
- Is it a past event you to remind the reader about (in a series) or something the reader has not been told before?
- Is it foreshadowing or giving clues to an event which may soon be taking place?
What to add/think about when writing your dialogue.
If you were writing a play, you wouldn’t have to think much about this. You could add some stage directions, but mainly the director and/or the actors would add the speaker’s actions, clothes, setting, props etc. to the dialogue. In a novel, the writer has to think of ways of transmitting this information.
Characters aren’t still or in a vacuum when they talk. They’re doing things and thinking about things. Their senses are aware, so they can hear, see, smell, taste and feel. They’re in a specific place which can bring memories or give them specific vibrations. They’re with people who can make them feel differently, too.
Although the actual conversation is our aim, and it’s probably what we write first, at least I usually do, later on we need to make it real. Create the context for the reader to understand and feel what the characters feel, which is not necessarily the information they give when they’re actually speaking.
Some specific questions to ask yourself:
- Where are the characters? In general (e.g. a hotel) and specifically (e.g. on the terrace in their room)
- Why that place in particular and not another?
- What are they seeing? Near (e.g. on the floor) and far (e.g. on the horizon).
- What are they thinking about? Present conversation? Past events? The place? The person they’re talking to?
- What are they hearing? What does it remind them of? How does it make them feel?
- What can they smell? What reaction does this have on them?
- Are they sitting, standing, moving? Are they doing something while they talk?
- What kind of atmosphere do you want to create? Tense? Romantic? Mysterious? Relaxed?
- What are their facial expressions, movements and gestures like?
- Are they interested or pleased to be having the conversation? If not, where would they like to be? Or what would they like to be doing?
- What are they wearing? What does it tell us about them? The place? The situation? The time of year?
- What’s their relationship? Does the reader already know? Does he need to know anything else? What do they think of each other?
- What’s their motivation for the conversation? Was it prepared, unexpected, on one side or both?
- What day is it? Time of year? What’s the weather like?
- What have they been doing before?
- What are they going to do next?
- What’s on their mind?
- What’s happening around them?
- Who’s entering and leaving the place or the conversation?
- Are the speakers alone? If not think about other people there, what are they doing? listening, watching, oblivious…
Identify the aim of the conversation regarding character and plot.
Don’t ramble or tell the reader things they already know.
Reduce tags and tags with adverbs to a minimum.
You can make characters unique by the things they say, expressions, or gestures they often make, the clothes they wear, etc.
Read it out loud: think about length, repetition, authenticity, flow, does your main point (plot/character) come across? You’ll probably need to tweak it a few times, at least I certainly do!
I have these questions pinned to my notice board. I refer to them once I’ve written the first draft of the conversation. It helps me give more depth to my dialogues.
I’d love to hear from you:
How do you approach your dialogues?
Do you write them straight off or do they go through various stages?
Any more tips / ideas for writing dialogue?
My Writing Process: Falling in love and staying in love with my novel
From Freewriting to Editing
It’s easy for me to fall in love with my latest novel.
I love words. I’m an artist, so I let it flow. I love feeling the rush of inspiration, getting it all out if my system. Splashing the words on the page as my characters take over my mind and create their story.
This is when I fall in love with my novel. I’m crazy about it and I can’t get enough of it. I even think I’ll never be able to live without this burst of creative energy in my life.
It’s such a powerful high that I forget it won’t last (thank goodness it doesn’t, otherwise I’d be a bundle of unconstrained, nervous energy, which would burn myself out!)
While I’m in love with my novel I have no friends, or family, I drift through daily chores, even work, only living for the moment I can sit down and write my new story.
I usually do this by hand, once I’ve thought about and envisioned the scenes, but I soon move to the typewriter where I can easily bash out between three and four thousand words a day, sometimes even more, sometimes less; I can’t avoid all my other obligations.
This is the easy stage, often called freewriting.
The problem is it ends, and once I’ve fallen in love with my novel, I need to stay in love. Something has to remain after the mad rush has subsided (and I know deep down that it will eventually subside).
Can I do that? Can I sit down, read the thousands of words I wrote and love them after the frenzy? Can I be ‘reasonable and realistic’ and edit and shape it into a novel?
Can my passionate lover become my best friend? Can my idealized novel make it in the real world? Does it have a ‘real life’ outside of my obsession?
If it’s no, then it goes into the drawer for a time, or forever, who knows?
If the answer is yes, then I need to edit and shape the mass of unbridled madness.
This is painful. I have to cut out words and even whole lines, paragraphs and pages…
I’ve learnt my lesson after writing three novels. ‘Less is more’ and ‘simple conveys the most complex message effectively’.
As Kurt Vonnegut wisely told us: Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
He went on to expand that even every letter should fit the bill, and I agree. Every single word and letter should be there for a purpose. I’m still learning to do that, because I’m biased. All the words are mine and I love them all, cutting them out is painful, but I’m convinced it needs to be done either by yourself or with the help of another expert pair of eyes, such as an editor.
I have to plan it and often rewrite parts of it until it’s shaped into something I can fit into scenes, chapters and parts. I need to identify stages, plot lines, time sequence, turning points, climax, and so much more.
It’s like a first big argument between lovers. The novel drives me crazy with frustration and I know I either sort it out and we make it up, or we have to go our separate ways, because we can’t even be friends.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m falling in love with a new novel, and I’m in agony. I don’t know what’s going to happen… yet.
I’ll keep you posted.
By the way, does this happen to you?
1 Day to Book Launch of ‘Midsummer at Eyre Hall’: My Happy Ending, Thanks to Camus, Orson Welles and My Daughter.
Tomorrow is the big day. The Eyre Hall Trilogy is officially complete and available for purchase and download on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.
My proof for the paperback version of Midsummer at Eyre Hall arrived today. I’ll be checking it through carefully, and it will be available to purchase in print before the end of the month.
Today’s post is about happy endings.
In this final post, I’m going to tell you about one of my greatest challenges. I needed to make sure the end of The Eyre Hall Trilogy was not disappointing for readers who had read the previous books. After their emotional investment and the time spent reading, I wouldn’t want to let them down.
The main dilemma regarding the ending: it could be happy or not.
As I briefly discussed in my previous post, a happy ending is not mandatory in a romance, or in a gothic romance, or even in a Victorian gothic romance, but in the end, that’s what has happened in The Eyre Hall Trilogy.
Why did I think of an unhappy ending in the first place?
Well, I didn’t want to be accused of promoting false expectations or chosing the easy way to end my trilogy on a marriage or birth, after all, the end, the real end of our lives, is pretty depressing.
I finally decided to stop at a happy moment, mainly because it was my daughter’s request and Camus’ influence, so I followed Welles advice and found the right place to stop in order to have an optimistic ending.
Before we continue, let’s take a few minutes to discuss happiness. What is happiness? What is a happy ending?
According to Camus, life becomes absurd once we realise that from the moment we are born, we are walking towards our inevitable death.
Life is absurd, but we can make one of two important choices: to live or to die.
We can exert our freedom and refuse to play the absurd game by committing suicide, or we can freely accept the absurdity of life and chose to be happy.
So, if we choose to be happy, we accept our transient nature and implicitly agree to make the most of our time here.
Now, back to The Eyre Hall Trilogy. Why is it a happy ending?
Mainly because the main characters, the characters the reader cares most about, are in harmony with the life they lead at the moment the narrative stops. They have made their choices, fought for what they wanted, and they have achieved what they desired, so they are happy at the end.
On the other hand, not all the plot lines are tied up optimistically, and not all the characters are living in harmony. John, Annette and Susan made some unwise decisions which they will have to live with. There is a shadow looming over Michael due to some risky decisions he made, and of course, Jane is getting older towards the end of the novel, and although she is in good health, in Victorian England life expectancy was low, but I wrote ‘The End‘ before she died.
The final moment in Midsummer at Eyre Hall is full of harmony, but the characters, the reader, and the writer are well aware that this is a photograph of a fleeting moment. In any case, I hope you enjoy this temporary representation of happiness.
The following is an extract from Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, where Charles Dickens and Jane Eyre are discussing the difficulty of ending a novel. Mr. Dickens is visiting Jane and they are chatting by the fireplace at Eyre Hall, after dinner. He calls her Miss Elliot, beause it was the pen name Jane used at that time.
It’s one of my favourite intertextual scenes in the novel; the author I most admire chatting to my favourite fictional character about literature. A magnificent moment.
“The time has come to end this wonderful evening. I would not like to tire you, or I shall not be invited again.”
“Endings are so sad in real life, and so hard to write in fiction. How does an artist know a work of art has reached its end? And what is a good ending to a great story?”
“Indeed. It is no secret that I struggle with every ending.”
“I prefer happy endings, as you know, Mr. Dickens. Readers prefer a satisfactory conclusion. It makes the reading more rewarding.”
“Perhaps you are right, my dear Miss Elliot, but I am afraid it is not always possible.”
“Who should we bear in mind when writing the end, the reader or the story?”
“The reader always. We write for our readers. I had a more pessimistic ending for Great Expectations, but my dear friend Wilkie Collins persuaded me, or shall we say convinced me, that my readers would prefer a more positive ending, so I left the door open for Pip and Estella.”
“And are you pleased with this modification?”
“Yes. I have no doubt the story will be more acceptable with the altered ending. After all, I think Wilkie was right. It is for the better.”
“I must admit, it is one of my favourite novels, and I am glad you decided to present a happy ending. Would you read the last chapter before we retire?”
“It would be a pleasure, Miss Elliot.”
She handed me a copy of Great Expectations. I opened the last chapter and read the ending she wanted to hear.
“‘I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.’ ”
Seconds later, I closed the book and watched a single tear slide down her cheek.
“Thank you, Mr. Dickens. That is the most perfect ending anyone has ever written.”
I wanted to add that it was a mere illusion, because there can be no happy ending to any story. We will have to surrender everything we have, in the end, and we will leave this planet as naked and helpless as we came, but I was silent. Why spoil the magic moment?
What kind of endings do you prefer in the novels you read or write?
I’m relieved, overjoyed and excited to tell you that The Eyre Hall Trilogy is complete.
There are two days to go to the launch of Book 3, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, on the 21st of June, and I’m aiming to write a post a day about my writing process to celebrate my achievement.
Day two is all about genre. The Eyre Hal Trilogy is a Victorian Gothic Romance, but what exactly is that? Read on to find out.
The first word in my genre description is straightforward. A Victorian novel is a novel that is set in Victorian England, roughly between the 1830s and 1900, although many scholars extend it to the encompass the end of the 18th century, too. Most Victorian novels were written in Victorian times, but many others, sometimes called neo-Victorian novels, were written in the 20th and especially in the 21st century. There is more information on the characteristics, themes and style of Victorian and neo-Victorian novels, and why I write them in these other posts in my blog:
The Eyre Hall Trilogy is set in Victorian England between 1865 and 1879, although some of the events included as back story occurred in the 1850s and before.
The third word is also relatively easy to define. A Romance is a novel whose central concern is a love story. Romance novels are immensely diverse. Apart from the central theme of love, the rest of the characteristics are infinite, except for the presence of some kind of conflict, which must be resolved (remember Aristotle and Vonnegut; someone get’s into trouble and out of it…).
That’s the sum of common characteristics of romance. There are endless types of conflict and endless types of love stories. They can be set in any time period and in any setting or location. The ending is generally satisfactory, optimistic or downright happy ever after, although it can be partially or totally unhappy, too, see for example: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte, 1846), Love Story (Erich Segal 1970), or The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks, 1996).
The Eyre Hall Trilogy is a Romance, because it includes several love stories, and romantic love and the conflicts brought about as a result of the characters’ love interests are central to the plot and the sub-plots.
The genre which is going to prove most complex to define is ‘Gothic’, especially because there are many subgenres. In my case I’ll be discussing the Victorian Gothic Romance genre.
It’s origins are attributed to Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, which he himself subtitled ‘A Gothic Story’.
The name of the genre is derived from gothic architecture, specifically from the gothic neo-medieval buildings emulating the architecture which flourished in Europe between the 12th and the 16th century, including pointed arches and vaults, flying buttresses, narrow spires, stained glass windows, latticed windows on the exterior, and dungeons, secret passages, ghosts, long winding corridors, dark furnishings and a gloomy atmosphere in the inside.
Not surprisingly, one of the salient features of this genre is the setting, which must include an isolated and spooky, gothic mansion or castle. Think of The Castle of Otranto, Thornfield hall in Jane Eyre, Satis House in Great Expectations, Dracula’s Castle in Dracula, The House of Usher, Manderlay in Rebecca (20th century), Hundred’s Hall in The Little Stranger.
In the case of The Eyre Hall Trilogy there is a large country house, Eyre Hall. Jane Eyre rebuilt a house on the site of Thornfield Hall, which had been burnt down by Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre. Jane purposefully made sure that Eyre Hall didn’t have an attic, a rookery, vaults, or a flying buttress, in an aim to make its appearance less gothic than Thornfield Hall, and although it was a more modern building, there were plenty of nooks and crannies to hide unspeakable secrets…
There are plenty of characteristics which are common to gothic novels. Naturally, the more elements the novel contains, the more gothic it is! Here are a few of the most recurrent, apart from the house, in no particular order:
A mystery and a secret, often a family secret or mystery including murder, torture, or illegal confinement.
A prophecy or ancestral curse on a family.
Omens and paranormal situations.
A persecuted heroine, or damsel in distress, who is generally innocent or naive and easy to fool, by…
An evil character, or villain, who causes havoc in the heroine’s life, often including a seduction, rape or forced marriage. This person is often seeking financial gain and social status.
A supernatural element, which may be a ghost or any other type of unearthly being, such as a devil or a vampire.
Macabre situations such as death, decay, graveyards, churches, exhumation, etc.
Situations which terrorise or frighten the characters.
A dark and gloomy atmosphere, including foggy, dark, cold weather.
Complex plots with secrets and scheming characters.
Strong emotions of love, hate, fear, distress, etc.
Dangerous journeys in carriages, often at night.
One of the essential elements is the opposition between good and evil. The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are prime examples. The writer is concerned with the description of the spiritual and psychological challenges of the human soul in extreme situations.
The wicked are usually punished, although they may be redeemed if they learn their lesson and change their evil ways. The good yet physically weaker characters are often empowered due to their moral superiority.
Endings vary widely. Gothic Romance usually has happy endings, whereas Gothic Horror may have unhappier endings.
The Eyre Hall Trilogy must be a very gothic novel, because it contains all the elements I’ve named in spades!
I’ve tried my best to transport the modern reader to Victorian England and experience a gothic romance. There is adventure, suspense, the mystery and magic, dark family secrets, including murder, kidnapping, child theft, blackmail, exhumation, supernatural elements, journeys, asylums, villains, scheming, twisting plots, and plenty of conflict and obstacles for all pairs of lovers in the diverse love stories.
I’ve had great fun researching, planning and writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy, and I hope my readers also enjoy the ride!
Which is your favourite gothic romance?
I’m relieved, overjoyed and excited to tell you that The Eyre Hall Trilogy is complete.
There are three days to go to the launch of Book 3, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, on the 21st of June, and I’m aiming to write a post a day about my writing process to celebrate my achievement.
Day three is all about Intertextuality.
Intertextuality is a literary device which creates interrelationship between two or more texts.
The term was coined by Julia Kristeva in the 1960s and has been widely used by poststructuralist and postmodern literary scholars.
The most frequent form is when one book refers to another book’s characters, plot, or scenes.
This reference can be simple or complex. The simple form may reference the title, or a famous character. The complex form may adapt a complete storyline or various characters from another book.
It can be an accidental, subconscious, casual, or deliberate endeavour. It can also be explicit or obvious or implicit, so the reader or scholar will need to delve into the text.
The Eyre Hall Trilogy employs simple and complex forms of intertextuality deliberately and explicitly.
The simple form of intertextuality is employed by most writers. Charlotte Bronte mentions Gulliver’s Travels, The Bible, among other texts in Jane Eyre, for example.
I mention Victorian writers, their works and their characters throughout my trilogy. Some examples are, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Emily Bronte, among others.
The complex form of intertextuality in The Eyre Hall Trilogy includes the use of many characters and back story from both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.
On the other hand the plots and most of the characters in the three novels which make up the trilogy are my own.
Intertextuality can be carried out using any or several of the following literary devices: allusion, quotation, parody, paraphrase, mimesis, expansion, transfer, among others.
The Eyre Hall Trilogy makes use of all of them, there are direct allusions to other works, including quotations. Some of the original characters are parodied. Events which took place in Jane Eyre are paraphrased as back story for the reader. I have also attempted to emulate the literary style, although I have adapted it for a modern audience. The original work is expanded and many events and characters have been transferred.
Many writers borrow ideas from the works they have read. Scholars call this literary sources, and all authors from Shakespeare to Joyce have done so in their works. It’s nothing new, and nothing to be ashamed of.
I wrote another post on sequels, prequels, reinterpretations, rewritings and writing back which explains my intentions in writing a sequel to Jane Eyre.
I also wrote a post on why Jane Eyre needs a sequel on author Shani Struther’s blog earlier this year.
There are plenty of examples of writers using this literary. James Joyce retold The Odyssey in Ulysses. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, is based on two characters from Hamlet. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is based on Bertha Mason’s story from Jane Eyre.
The purpose is to modify the readers’ understanding of the primary text by adding another perspective or layer of meaning to the original text leading to a reinterpretation of both texts.
My main aim in writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy was to invite the readers to rethink their opinions of Mr, Rochester, and expose Rochester as the tyrant he was and reinstate his victim, Bertha Mason.
Another aim was to honour the Victorian writers whom I consider my literary Masters, by referencing their works for contemporary readers.
Few readers have never read Jane Eyre or seen a film or television series based on this novel. Most of those who have never done so directly, have heard the story of the poor governess who falls in love with the owner of the house and discovers that his mad wife is locked in his attic.
For those few who have absolutely no idea of who Jane Eyre was, there’s plenty of back story in book 1, All Hallows at Eyre Hall, to help fill in the blanks.
I hope my readers will enjoy a fascinating journey into Victorian England when they read The Eyre Hall Trilogy
I’m relieved, overjoyed and excited to tell you that The Eyre Hall Trilogy is complete.
There are four days to go to the launch of Book 3, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, on the 21st of June, and I’m aiming to write a post a day about my writing process to celebrate my achievement.
Day four is all about plotting all the scenes into a three part structure.
Plotting From Aristotle to Vonnegut.
Most novels combine engaging characters and a compelling plot to varying degrees, however some novels are more concerned with how and external conflict is solved. A prime example is a detective novel concerned with a criminal case and its solution. Other novels focus on personal conflict and the relationships between the characters. In this case, the outcome is often a change of attitude, or a new situation in the characters’ lives, not the solution of a specific incident.
I’m more of a character-driven writer than a plotter, because I’m more concerned with how my characters feel about their problems, and the processes they undergo to overcome them.
Nevertheless, I do plot and my plot is also important, it’s just not more important than my characters personal journey of self-discovery.
In this post I’m going to tell you about my plot structure for The Eyre Hall Trilogy.
According to Aristotle’s Poetics, all drama has three basic acts corresponding to the beginning, the middle, and the end of a story.
Three thousand years later, Kurt Vonnegut told us that a good story has a hero who gets into trouble and then out of trouble, everyone loves that story.
Screen writer David Trottier put it like this, ‘Put your hero in a tree, throw rocks at him, and get him out.’
There are few surprises to this basic structure, which has been used over and over again, of course, the fun is in the way it’s presented.
Basically, the first part presents the conflict, the middle complicates it even more, and the end resolves it.
I use this basic 3-part structure in my novels, too.
My three novels have three parts with ten chapters per part.
Each chapter has one scene and some have two related scenes.
Part I includes the setting, main characters and first crisis. I start throwing the rocks as soon as possible. In fact the first crisis happens in chapter I in the three books. I thrust both readers and characters into the situation without warning. This event changes the main character’s life drastically and unexpectedly, to such an extent that Jane literally loses control of her life.
This first crisis is sometimes referred to as enticing incident. It’s what sets the ball rolling.
The rest of the novel is spent dealing with and sorting out this situation, which is partially resolved in books 1 and 2 and finally tied up in part 3.
Part II, also called the midpoint, the central character takes stronger actions, the conflict intensifies, or more conflict appears, and the pace quickens. The main character is at a point of no return. Jane must go forward even if she’s walking straight into another crisis at midpoint, and she knows it. When all seems lost, things take a turn for the better, leading up to part three on an optimistic note.
Part III starts well, but there is another major turning point, which is usually referred to as the crisis or dilemma, occurring towards the end of the novel. It usually involves making a decision aimed at solving the initial problem. It’s often a low point where all seems lost. It is followed by the climax, which is the result of the choices made and leads to the final outcome.
If the novel is part of a trilogy, as my case, there can be no satisfactory solution to the crisis in book I, or there would be no reason for a further book, so it ends on an unsatisfactory ending, sometimes called a cliffhanger if it’s more dramatic, so the reader will want to know what happens in book II.
Book two starts with the same structure all over again, leading to book three, which has a more satisfactory ending. I say satisfactory, because the ends are partially tied up, not because it is totally happy. But more about happy-endings tomorrow.
Each of the thirty chapters include scenes.
These scenes include crisis, turning points, surprises, complications, revelations plot twists and turns, and a climax, and a resolution along the way, otherwise it would be a very boring ride!
Scenes are vital, because they drive the story forward. Each scene must have a purpose within the novel, which will move the plot forward or give us some vital information about the characters or back-story.
I give each of the three parts a name, and each chapter a number and a name, too. It helps me in the planning stage, and it signposts the action for the reader (by the way, these names undergo multiple changes throughout the writing process).
This is the Index of Midsummer at Eyre Hall
Part One: Season of Darkness
Chapter I – Abodes of Horror
Chapter II – The Best of Times
Chapter III – Betrayal
Chapter IV – Winter of Despair
Chapter V – The Worst of Times
Chapter VI – Fugitives
Chapter VII – Nothing Before Us
Chapter VIII – Hell is Empty
Chapter IX – The Age of Foolishness
Chapter X – Wrath
Part Two: Spring of Hope
Chapter XI – Locked out of Heaven
Chapter XII– Everything before Us
Chapter XIII – Epoch of Incredulity
Chapter XIV – Stairway to Heaven
Chapter XV Pride, Greed, and Lust.
Chapter XVI – The Agony and the Ecstasy
Chapter XVII Manderley
Chapter XVIII – In Search of Helen
Chapter XIX The Road to Hell
Chapter XX – First Love
Part Three: Season of Light
Chapter XXI – Persuasion
Chapter XXII – Seashells and Puppies
Chapter XXIII – Present Blessings
Chapter XXIV – Mr. de Winter’s Request
Chapter XXV – Thunder Moon at Eyre Hall
Chapter XXVI – Susan’s Inferno
Chapter XXVII – James Eyre Kirkpatrick
Chapter XXVIII – Max and Helen
Chapter XXIX – The Light and the Darkness
Chapter XXX – Return to Eyre Hall
I didn’t plan it all before I started. I started book one with some characters and a situation and let them speak and act. A third of the way through, I planed it all, loosely. I didn’t consciously use Aristotle’s proposal, although it may have been ingrained in my subconscious due to my literary background as a graduate in literature.
This plotting structure has worked for me with the Eyre Hall Trilogy. It helped me to organize my erratic thoughts into coherent scenes, but I honestly have no idea whether it would work with any other novels I’ll be writing. There are lots more methods for plotting a novel.
How do you plot your novels?
I’m relieved, overjoyed and excited to tell you that The Eyre Hall Trilogy is complete.
There are five days to go to the launch of Book 3, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, on the 21st of June, and I’m aiming to write a post a day about my writing process to celebrate my achievement.
Day five is all about the transition from the scene I’ve seen in my mind to the written version.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, once I’ve visualised the scene and run through it in my mind’s eye, I start my writing process.
The first thing I do is pick up a pen and a writing pad (I prefer large ones, but sometimes I use smaller ones I can carry in my handbag) and jot down my thoughts.
This first draft looks nothing like the final version and works like this:
First I write some loose ideas or instructions, like detailed playwright’s stage directions. I might add some snippets of dialogue, and some instructions or notes to myself, like ‘remember to make sure the reader knows it’s late afternoon and the journey will take four hours.’ I’m sure nobody would make any sense of it, except myself!
A few days ago, I learnt that this technique is called ‘Freewriting’ and is very useful for writers thanks to a post by Icy Sedwick How can freewriting help writers with plotting or blocks? Read this fascinating article if you want to know more about how this process can help writers.
Next, I usually do some more visualisation, because writing it all down has sparked my imagination and raised more questions or included more people or actions in the scene. I might have to do some research or rethink the whole scene.
The second time I take up the scene, I start writing all over again, using my first notes and any new ideas I’ve come up with. At this stage it is usually a much more coherent text, but it’s still nowhere near finished.
At this point, I usually stop using my pen and take up my keyboard. This is the most productive part, five or six handwritten pages, about 1,000 words, easily become 5,000. And the best thing is that once I get to this stage, the words flow like a waterfall.
When I finish my first typewritten draft of a scene, I know there’s more work to be done on it in the future, but I move on to another scene, for the time being.
Although I move on, I reread and edit what I’ve already written regularly, expanding, cutting out, and modifying as I go along.
I follow this process this with every scene, and each scene usually becomes a chapter, although some chapters have more than one scene, but more about my scenes tomorrow.
Do you your pen before your keyboard too?
Do you ‘freewrite’?
I’m relieved, overjoyed and excited to tell you that The Eyre Hall Trilogy is complete.
There are six days to go to the launch of Book 3, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, on the 21st of June, and I’m aiming to write a post a day about my writing process to celebrate my achievement.
I’m a visual learner, thinker and writer.
This means I need visual input to learn, understand and interact meaningfully with my environment.
As a learner, it means I need to see and/or make charts, images, diagrams, mind maps, videos, etc. to fully understand what I’m learning.
As a reader, it means that if the writer doesn’t show me where I am and what and who I’m seeing, I can’t relate to the novel, which is probably why I love the detail and atmosphere conveyed in Victorian novels. However, this doesn’t have to be wordy. Think of poetry; just a few words can express complex feelings and situations.
As a writer it means I need to see images in my mind of who and what I’m writing about, before I write, and it’s why I want my reader to be there with me, inside the characters’ shoes and looking around through their eyes.
These mental images can be based on memories, or something I can see, either physically or virtually, but I need that trigger.
For example, I need to see Eyre Hall before I can imagine anything happening there. I also need to see my characters: their clothes, hairstyles, accessories, mannerisms, etc. before I can hear them speak or watch them interact.
This visualisation stage happens in my mind’s eye, sometimes consciously as I take a walk, sit and think, or unconsciously when I dream.
It is the starting point of all my scenes. I’ve seen it all before I write it down.
I call this the summoning or activating stage, where I’m thinking scenes through, like a chess game. I purposefully think about my characters and location. I see what the characters are doing, where they are and what they are saying like film shots. I rewind, repeat, change, until I’m comfortable with the scene.
I can’t start writing until I’m satisfied with the scene I’ve seem.
Sometimes my imagination isn’t enough to visualise what I want to see, and I need to see photographs and paintings, of people, places and objects related to my scene, because if I don’t ‘see’ it, I can’t conjure it, and I can’t write my scene.
For example, I was having trouble writing about the sea scenes in Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall. I saw plenty of pictures about naval battles and storms, but I needed to get inside the ship, before I could hear Michael and Captain Carrington speaking in the Captain’s cabin, and I couldn’t see the room at all.
Quite by chance, I went to Madrid for a weekend in March 2015, and decided to look into war museums, and I discovered that there was a fabulous Naval Museum, which is very close to the Prado Museum, where I spent an unforgettable afternoon. I was lucky enough to take part in an enlightening guided tour of naval history from Columbus to the present, using the museum exhibits.
There was one exhibit which mesmerised me and enabled me to write the scene I mentioned; an exact replica of a captain’s cabin in a 19th century frigate. It struck me powerfully how grand it was. The polished wooden walls and furniture, rich carpets, drinks cabinets, paintings, upholstered chairs, which were in stark contrast to the rest of the rooms on board.
That visit was like magic. On the two-hour train ride back home, I jotted down all my ideas for the scene, and when I returned, I sat on my computer and it happened. But more about how the actual writing process tomorrow.
Are you a visual thinker?
Here’s an excerpt of one of the scenes on the ship in the first part of Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall.
Captain Carrington looked up from his desk and waved a hand towards the chair facing him, and then busied himself with some papers, seeming to ignore my presence.
It was rumoured that he had spent so long waiting for a captain’s commission, that his hair had turned white and his skin grey. His face was dented with deep ridges that cut his hollow cheeks, and his head and stomach were unusually large compared to his scrawny limbs. I wondered how he had become so overweight with the meagre portions we ate while at sea.
He folded a document, which looked like a letter, and then stared at me before speaking at last. “Why are you here, Midshipman Kirkpatrick?”
“I wanted to be in the navy, like my father, sir.” I had said the words so often I had convinced myself they were true.
“Who are you running away from?”
I took a few seconds to reply to his unexpected question. “I have never run away from any man, sir.”
“I can believe that.”
His eyes dug into mine, once again. “Cold blood. Determination. I’ve seen you kill without a second thought, when you needed to.”
The crew were mostly decent, self–respecting men, who worked hard and obeyed the regulations. However, there had been a few blackguards of the worst sort, tough, merciless men who stole rum and provisions, slept on guard, and increased the workload of the rest of the crew. Many of them had served their time in prison, where they should have remained. A group of such criminals had provoked a mutiny threatening the captain’s life shortly before our arrival in Jamaica. In spite of being flogged for not joining their criminal uprising, I managed to escape with the help of a few brave and loyal sailors and suppressed the rebellion by slaying the scoundrels.
“I’m prepared to do what is necessary for my ship and the crew, sir.” I was relieved that the conversation had returned to professional matters.
“Then it’s a woman you are running away from.” He smiled wryly, and I knew there was no point in denying it. I could not imagine how he knew, because we had never spoken about personal matters. “Not a woman, sir. A very special lady.”
“They are all special to someone, my boy. Beyond your station, perhaps? Her family didn’t think you were good enough, did they?”
“Something like that, sir.”
“So you came here to fix that, did you? To prove that you’re worthy of the damsel?”
“I came to forget.” I had not spoken to anyone about Jane since I left Eyre Hall and it was more painful than I had imagined.
“Of course, to forget.” He nodded mockingly, pressed his fingers on the mahogany desk and raised himself up painfully, swearing as he limped around the cabin. He stopped behind me, breathing down my neck. “But you can’t, can you? She is in your thoughts, under your skin, inside your blood, and you cannot pull her out. You smell her before you fall asleep and touch her in your dreams, don’t you?”
I was relieved that he stood behind me. I needed time to compose myself. How could he know how I felt if I did not understand my feelings myself?
“And when you wake up, your whole body misses her, and your heart aches to hear her voice, you long to look into her eyes, preferably looking up to you from beneath.” I felt his hand on my shoulder. “Am I right, Kirkpatrick?”
I was silent, containing my breathing. How could he know?
“So, what are you going to do about it, man?”
“Nothing, sir. It’s impossible.”
He returned to his seat, staring at me again. “And if you were to return as a commissioned officer, as a lieutenant. Would that make it easier to convince her father?”
“No, sir. It would not.”
“Interesting, no father.” He shuffled the papers on his desk then looked up. “Is that why you’ve been trying to get yourself killed almost every day since we set sail six months ago, Lieutenant?”
“I’m not a lieutenant, sir.”
“You’re a dangerous and valuable man who can kill with one hand and plan the mathematical coordinates of the ship with the other. Your father would have been proud of you, and, one day, so will your beloved’s family.”
“Thank you, sir, for your concern, but I’m afraid not, sir. The lady is out of the question.”
“Then you’ll have to replace her.”
“Admirable self–control and loyalty. I presume she must be married?”
“She is beyond my reach, sir.”
“You were a valet at a country estate before enlisting, am I right?”
“I don’t think a young maid would have made you flee, or rejected you, and seeing the ambition and astuteness in your eyes, I added two and two, and realised it must have been the mistress of the house, or her daughter. Which was it?”
Did I manage to bring you into the captain’s cabin? Did you see the characters? Are you intrigued?
Many things have been happening during these bloggingly silent months, and I have an important announcement to make.
I’m relieved, overjoyed and excited to tell you that The Eyre Hall Trilogy is complete.
There are seven days to go to the launch of Book 3, Midsummer at Eyre Hall, on the 21st of June, and I’m aiming to write a post a day to celebrate my achievement.
The idea of writing a sequel to Jane Eyre in order to revindicate Bertha Mason and uncover Rochester’s real nature, opening many eyes, including Jane Eyre’s, had been taking shape in my imagination for a few years before I put pen to paper.
On a warm, sunny day, towards the end of June 2013, I sat in my garden with my brand new PC, and started pantsing my novel.
I had a location: Thornfield Hall had been burnt down and Jane had inherited a great deal of money from her uncle, so she had built another more modern country house on the same spot: Eyre Hall. It had neither an attic nor a rookery.
I had a setting: Twenty-two years after Jane and Rochester’s marriage, while Rochester is on his death-bed.
I had an antagonist: My first scene was crystal clear; Richard Mason would arrive at Eyre Hall, causing havoc in Jane’s life once again. He was Bertha’s brother, the man who had interrupted Rochester’s first bigamous marriage attempt in Jane Eyre.
I had the catalyst: This time he had a more shocking revelation. Bertha had given birth to a baby girl in the attic, whom Richard had removed to Jamaica under Rochester’s orders. Annette Mason was twenty-two years old and ready to claim her birthright. Annette is the most vital character in the novel. Without Annette there would be no Eyre Hall Trilogy.
I had the anti-hero: Rochester was responsible for Jane’s ‘unhappy marriage’, and the tragic events which will ensue, due to his crimes and misconduct.
And of course I had my dear protagonist: Jane Eyre. She is the link to all the other characters and events. The trilogy is concerned with the way in which she will react to the events and other characters, and how her fate will develop as a result.
My characters were strong and well-defined in my mind, so I just made them interact and talk to each other and the story gradually grew.
My first surprise was that more characters appeared of their own accord, right from chapter one. The most significant was an unplanned and unexpected hero, who emerged, and practically took over my novel and Jane’s life, on page two; Michael.
More characters appeared, interacted and events started to get out of hand. I soon realised two things I hadn’t counted on:
1) I needed a plan, and 2) one novel wasn’t going to be enough.
So about a third of the way into book one, All Hallows at Eyre Hall, I planed the rest of the first novel and outlined the next two, Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall and Midsummer at Eyre Hall. Needless to say, my early plans have changed drastically along the way, but even though plans change, you need a plan as well as an open mind.
It’s been a fascinating adventure. Months of research, reading, rereading, writing, rewriting, editing, discussing, fretting, and 280,000 words later, I have finished my journey, or not?