Tuesday, March 04, 2008

By Request 3

Janet's asked some very interesting questions and I'll do my best to answer them.

Question 1)I'm amazed by the number of good story ideas you come up with. Do they arrive fully formed or do you spend a lot of time developing them before you start writing?
Sometimes I get a plot on it's own but this is very, very rare. Usually my plot ideas arrive with the character of the heroine. In Blue Remembered Heels I'd read a few articles about people who had been struck by lightening and the strange effects this could have. One man found he could speak a different language that he had no recollection of ever learning. The character of Abbey and her inability to lie came into my mind and I wondered in what aspect of someone's life would that be a really big problem and Abbey the con woman leapt onto the page. Then the subplot developed.

Question 2)Do you get lots and lots of ideas but discard a lot too, and keep only the best? I get a lot of ideas but some are suitable for short stories and others for books. Most of my books have a theme that underpins their structure. In Be My Hero, the theme was infertility and society's expectations and how they impact on individuals. In Things To Do, the theme was perceptions.

Question 3)Any tips for getting the ideas to flow? I can always come up with initial story ideas that I really like, then I struggle to develop them past chapter 4. (I like to have the external plot outline worked out before I begin.)
The external plot is not the key, it's the jam on the cake. If you rely on an external plot your story will run out of steam by chapter three. It's the internal conflict where you need to spend the time.
eg In Things To Do the external plot was Emma's secret marriage. The internal plot, the one underpining all the other subplots, is Emma's need to see people for what they really are, not as she would like them to be. Her internal neediness, wanting to be loved for who she is has led her into a disastrous marriage. She clings onto the marriage trying to believe that her husband loves her, explaining his bad behaviour while the reader can see she's fooing herself. As the story unfolds you see her realising the truth about herself and then, in turn, about Marco. She is then free to see the man who has really loved her all along, Rob.
It's the internal conflicts that help the reader to empathise with the heroine, her motivations and those of the hero are what give the reader the emotional investment in the story.
In Blue Remembered Heels, Abbey could be seen as an unlikely heroine. She's a conwoman, dishonest and not on the surface, a very nice person, but then you meet the other people in her life and see her particular moral code and the rational behind it and you see how vulnerable she is.
The characters are the key, they will give you the plot. In Dangerous to Know, Gemma has been dumped by the man she thought she was going to marry and finds that she has lost her identity and her confidence. Jerome has avoided relationships as his work takes him into dangerous places and he felt it would be unfair on a partner. Gemma sees him as someone who it would be safe to flirt with, to prove to the world, herself and her ex that she isn't boring. She steps outside her comfort zone physically and emotionally with Jerome. He, in turn, realises that emotions and love don't come to order. The external plot, the corrupt land deal and the suspense element, only serve to highlight the internal conflict in the emotions of the two characters.
Several of my reviews have picked up on the psychological interplay of my characters and commented very favourably on those aspects. They are what make the characters come alive.

I hope that's all made sense and feel free to agree, disagree, ask questions.


liz fenwick said...

Great post! Thanks :-)

Janet said...

Hi Nell,
Thank you for such a detailed answer.
And for inviting more questions :)

I'll jump in quick before you get a rush of replies.

So, we've established that the internal plot is the important one.

a)How do you deal with the backstory underpinning those internal conflicts? How much do you reveal at the start of the story? (early chapters)

b)And what techniques do you use to reveal it?

c) Do you decide on your theme before you write the book or does it develop out of the story that unfolds?