Monday, October 15, 2012

Guest Blogger - I do not 'heart' writing systems - Phillipa Ashley

Why I do not heart writing ‘systems’ Something weird happened when I was writing my latest novel, Miranda’s Mount. No, I didn’t have an out of body experience, nor did Johnny Depp leap out of the manuscript and carry me off to a desert island. It was much weirder than all of those things: this book gave me virtually no trouble to write.

Now, I preface this post by stating categorically: No Book Is ‘Easy’ to Write. The novel still took me nine months of daily writing to produce 90,000 words, edit them and then rewrite some of them. Yet for once, I enjoyed every moment of the process, had several offers for the book and not too much in the way of edits from my agent or editor.

Before you think I’m a smug git, I will happily admit to most of my books giving me a great deal of trouble and for a couple to have had a *lot* of rewriting and then some. One or two hurt even to think about but not Miranda, and I’ve asked myself why. Did I discover a magical new writing system to help me create the plot and develop the characters? The Post-It method? Card files? Character wheels? Zodiac signs? Unfortunately not: which means I probably won’t be able to replicate that glorious feeling again.

I’d describe myself as a ‘pantster’ rather than a ‘plotter’ and to be honest, I’m not a lover of writing methods and systems. Now, the unkind might say that shows in my novels but the truth is that I find ‘systems’ stifling to my creativity and to my strange way of thinking, they relegate writing to a slog rather than pleasure. Worst, they drag me outside my story and remind me that it’s not, actually, true. That’s not to say that many writers find a system or method that works for them. It’s probably just me... maybe chaos is my process.

Or perhaps, this being my sixth novel, I’ve finally learned a few things. I’ve learned to spot when I’m heading down a blind alley and to ask sooner: why? Because in essence, isn’t that three letter word is the key to all stories? Asking why a character has acted or is acting or will act in a certain way is the essence of the plot of a romance novel. If people’s motivations aren’t clear or credible, the story just won’t work for the reader. If you ask ‘why’ often enough, it may lead you down a completely different route to the one you’d plotted. It’s hard to let go of a plan or worse, to delete thousands of words, but sometimes you have to do it.

With Miranda’s Mount, the inspirational part came when I got the idea, which came out of the blue on a car journey. Immediately, I knew the setting and the main reasons why my hero and heroine would be in conflict externally and their internal conflicts developed along the way. I really tried to make sure I had those motivations at the front of my mind at every stage of the novel. As a result, the characters spoke to me from the first page to the end, with very few silences in between.

Or maybe I just got lucky this time... I’d love to know if you’ve found any writing processes that worked well for you.

Miranda’s Mount When Miranda finds herself fighting for her home, her job and her heart, sleeping with the enemy may not be the best tactic… With no family of her own, Miranda Marshall has developed a healthy respect – some would say obsession – with other people’s histories. As property manager of a spectacular island castle in Cornwall, she’s made St Merryn’s Mount one of the UK’s most popular heritage attractions. While she may have the castle running like clockwork, Miranda hasn’t bargained on its sexy owner returning to claim his birthright. Dark, handsome and with a rakish reputation, Jago St Merryn not only looks like a pirate but is intent on flogging the Mount to a soulless leisure corporation. Miranda faces the battle of her life as she tries to persuade him to face up to his past and continue the St Merryn dynasty. But Jago has his own reasons for jumping ship and when he throws down the gauntlet to Miranda, she’s forced to delve into painful memories she’d much rather keep hidden… Amazon US Amazon UK AmazonUK

Twitter @PhillipaAshley


liz fenwick said...

Great post and I wish I could say i was there...but will post WHY on my puter to remind as i begin the next book!

About to download Mirand's Mount now :-)


Cara Cooper said...

Hi Phillipa and Nell. Interesting post. I too think that 'systems' can be stagnating. In some ways they get you thinking too much about the 'how' you create your story and detract from the 'why' your characters are acting in certain ways. However, I do know writers who swear by them and achieve great things. We're all different I guess. Really pleased to know Miranda was a joy to write as it's often those books that are a joy to read.