I love this part of writing. The fear, the fury and the fun of coming up with a new title, a new story and a whole new cast of characters with whom I will live for the next year. As I write
short fiction as a major part of my professional life, I am very used to starters orders. The mini buzz of my mini tales. But starting a new novel is something very different. A much bigger, deeper breath.
I always swear, of course, that I am not going to put myself through it any more as it is such a major commitment . There will be tears, for sure! But trying to give this up is as hard as trying to do it. I wake. I
breathe. I write. That’s just how my life goes.
But I am learning to do a better warm-up on the starters blocks these days. I accepted a long time ago that I will never be the kind of writer who maps everything out at the start. Sure – I always have a game plan. A
beginning, a middle and an end. I always ensure I know my characters well before we set off on the journey
together. But in the past I have tended to trust the story and the people within it to guide me a part of the way.
This time I am doing a little more planning than usual simply because the idea I am working on and the structure of this next story demand that. How will it go? No idea.
It makes me think back to my days in television. Often people would ask which part, as a television reporter, I
liked best. The research, the filming or the editing? The answer was it varied from story to story. And this feels the same.
What I am enjoying just now is the sense of anticipation. The excitement of the unknown. The picture at the top of this post sums that up perfectly for me. It is of the Tomb of the Kings in Cyprus which I visited on my recent holiday. I had so wondered what it would be like.
To be honest, I had feared disappointment as some historical “sights” turn out to be a smaller pile of stones than I envisage. But this exceeded my expectations. More expansive. More impressive. More thought-provoking.
And so I hope this new MS will prove to be too. Certainly the idea, the pitch and the “peg” of this story feel completely right. And out of the corner of my eye I can already see the main characters waiting impatiently for me. Come on, come on….they are whispering. We need to get going.
But just for a change, I am making them wait. Asking them a few more questions.
This is something I advise my writing students in short story workshops. Always grill your characters before you get going. You need to know their biggest dreams and their greatest fears before you can share their lives. Take a peak in their fridge and their bathroom cabinet.
We writers need to know what it is in the cupboards (skeletons included).
It was Elizabeth Bowen who said that writers do not create characters. They pre-exist and we have to find them.
I like that.
Mine are certainly forming a little huddle, all eager for the drama ahead. Fetch the straight jacket , if you like,
but it doesn’t feel as if I invented them.
It feels instead as if we are simply eyeing each other up. Each of us wondering how we are going to get along…