Friday 25 November 2011

Do you use nostalgia when writing?

Annie's song by John Denver
When I was listening to Radio 2 in the car yesterday, Chris Evans played Annie's Song by John Denver.  I haven't heard this song for years and I was instantly taken back to the 1970s.  I was around four years old, sitting in the back of our pea-green Ford Escort. The John Denver tape was playing and I can picture my mother, with her long brown hair engrossed in the map whilst my father drove us along a country lane.  I've included a link from in case you remember this song and would like to listen to it.

When I catch a whiff of Chanel No 5 I remember my late mother and a flood of memories come back.
Cinnamon reminds me of New York. I worked there for a month in 2001 and remember eating cinnamon bagels.
I ate Nutella on toast the other day and was taken back to Italy.
The senses bring a page of writing to life but they can also be used to evoke memories.
After writing a few drafts of my novel, 'The Grandson' it took me a while to work out where the novel should begin.  Several thousand words which came before the new Page One were cut.  Getting that backstory into the novel without dumping the information everywhere was a challenge.  After reading 'how to' books and going to writing classes, I worked out that nostalgia can be used to bring in backstory.  When a character is being nostalgic, relevant information from their past can be included in a more subtle way.
Cross-referencing to an earlier part of the novel
Towards the end of 'The Grandson', the hero, Alessandro returns a cardigan to the heroine, Jessica when she visits him in New York.  Two years previously, she left this cardigan on the back of a chair in a restaurant in Siena. The cardigan smells of the perfume she wore then and Jessica is taken back to Siena. Alessandro likes the perfume but Jessica doesn't wear it anymore because her fiancé, Sebastian doesn't like it.
Nostalgia can be used as inspiration.  My novel, 'The Grandson' was inspired by eight months studying and au pairing in Siena in 1994.
Have you used nostalgia to inspire a novel?  When writing do you use nostalgia as an opportunity to bring in backstory or reference an earlier part of the novel? I'd be interested to read your comments.

Thursday 17 November 2011

How do amendments impact the rest of the book?

When making amendments it's easy to forget how they impact the rest of a scene or other parts of the novel. I made this mistake recently when adding in an answerphone message from the heroine's mother.
In the previous scene, the Italian-American hero, Alessandro drove up to Yorkshire to find the heroine, Jessica. When he got to Bluebell farm where Jessica's parents lived, her mother, Mary told him that Jessica was living in London with her fiancé, Sebastian. Mary reluctantly gave Alessandro Jessica's address in London. She disapproved of Alessandro because she worried that Jessica would go and live with him in New York.
The following day Jessica is making Sunday lunch for her future in-laws. Sebastian will be breaking the news to his parents that they're engaged and she's trying to impress them by producing the perfect roast lunch. Sebastian is drinking coffee whilst reading the newspapers on the roof terrace. Jessica's pouring the batter for the Yorkshire pudding into a roasting tin, which is spitting hot fat when the intercom buzzes.  Sebastian doesn't hear it and she tells him to come down from the roof terrace.  It's likely to be his friend, Tarquin who's always dropping in at inconvenient times. The intercom continues to buzz and Jessica becomes flustered as she is trying to focus on getting the timings for the lunch right.  Sebastian tells her that Alessandro is downstairs and that there's no way he is setting foot in Sebastian's flat. Jessica is in shock as she hasn't seen Alessandro for two years.  After the way they'd parted in Siena, she'd never expected to see him again. Jessica goes downstairs to find out the reason for Alessandro's visit.
Here is the amendment I made:
Whilst Jessica is wondering why Alessandro has turned up out of the blue, her mother, Mary rings. The answerphone kicks in and when Jessica realises that it's her mother, Mary she decides not to pick up the telephone.  Mary leaves a message to say that Alessandro has been to Yorkshire and that he's on his way to visit Jessica. (Mary doesn't like leaving answerphone messages.  She tried ringing a few times the previous evening when Jessica and Sebastian were out.)
I decided to make this change because it occurred to me that Mary would want to warn Jessica that Alessandro was on his way to see her. It was one of those moments where a character told me what to do.
When I made this amendment I forgot to change something else a little later in the scene:
When Jessica goes downstairs, her and Alessandro talk outside the entrance to Sebastian's flat on Fulham Road.  The pavement is littered with trodden-on beer cans, a sea of cigarette butts and cartons from the kebab shop over the road. When Alessandro says that he's been up to Yorkshire, Jessica is surprised and asks why he went up there. It wouldn't be in Jessica's character to pretend to be surprised. So I had to adapt the scene accordingly. I did add in a few extra bits whilst I was there.
Before Mary's answerphone message:

            ‘How did you find me?’ Jessica said.
            ‘I got your parents’ address from Isabella,’ Alessandro said.
            ‘But how did that bring you here?’
            ‘I drove up there yesterday.’
            ‘You went to Yorkshire?’ 
            ‘With a stick shift too and on the left hand side of the road.  Your mom and gran weren’t too pleased to see me but they eventually gave me this address,’ he said.
            ‘Why did you want to find me?’
            ‘I need to know if you got my letter,’ he said, folding his arms.
After Mary's answerphone message:
            ‘My mum left a message to say you've been up there.  Where did you get the address from?’ Jessica said.
            ‘Isabella had it,’ Alessandro said.
            The morning Jessica left Siena, she'd pinned her parents' address to the noticeboard in the hall, asking Isabella to forward her post.   It had never occurred to her that Alessandro would track her down using information from that scrap of paper.
            ‘I drove up there in a rental car with a stick shift on the left-hand side of the road.  Your mom and gran weren't exactly pleased to see me,' he said.
            Jessica imagined that they'd been unfriendly. Mum disapproved of how he'd hurt her, despite it having been a difficult decision for him.
            ‘Why are you here?
            ‘I need to know if you got my letter,’ he said, folding his arms.
I'd be interested to read your comments. Do you find it easy to forget how making an amendment can impact the rest of the novel? Is it something you notice when returning to a scene a few weeks later like I did?

Wednesday 16 November 2011

The Liebster Blog award

Liz Crump, a fellow member of The Romantic Novelist's Association's New Writer's Scheme kindly nominated my blog for The Liebster Blog award yesterday. This is what she wrote when she chose my blog:

Anita Chapman for writerly advice and thoughts that make me think outside of my own little writing box!

Thank you so much Liz!

In accepting the Liebster Blog Award, the recipient agrees to:
-Thank the person who gave them the award and link back to that person's blog
-Copy and paste the award to their blog
-Reveal the 5 blogs they have chosen to award, commenting on their blog to break the news
-Hope the writers of these blogs accept and award The Liebster Blog Award to 5 bloggers they would like to honour

This award is for anyone with fewer than 200 followers.

The 5 blogs I've chosen to award are:
1. Michelle Flatley for posts which make me laugh out loud (mainly about writing)
Latest post - A Writer's holiday from hell
2. Alison May for passionate posts about writing (and sometimes political issues)
Latest post - Where I get all sci-fi and fantasyish and do a bit of reviewing
3. Margaret Morton Kirk for posts about writing which get everyone talking - see 'Feedback Fear'
Latest post - Parliamo Glasgow or Lost in Translation - how much is too much local colour?
4. Cathy Powell for a taste of Italy
Latest post - Boots n All 30 Day Indie Travel Project - Day 14
5. Clare Wartnaby for interesting posts about writing and useful info about the path to getting published
Latest post - Write Stuff - What's the Big Idea?

Sunday 6 November 2011

If only I'd known this when I wrote my first draft

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, see Links) has made me think about when I wrote the first draft of the novel 'The Grandson' in around eight weeks. When I'd finished, it still needed a great deal of work.  I enrolled in creative writing classes, read piles of 'how to' books and analysed plots in books, films and plays.  I've almost finished editing the final draft and plan to post a submission to an agent this month.  If I'd known the following when writing my first draft, it would have saved me some time.  An advantage about writing the first draft quickly is that the story writes itself.  If you think too much about the following, it may slow you down and stifle creativity.  It's worth bearing these points in mind as you write and looking at them in more detail when you've finished. 'The Grandson' is contemporary women's fiction so not all of these points may apply if you're writing in a different genre.
As soon as you know what genre you're writing - ie. romance, thriller, sci-fi, think about other books you've read in that genre.  How does the plot work? What tense and person are these books written in? (see my previous post on first person present tense) Do these books have more narrative or dialogue or a mixture of both? How long are the scenes?
What does the main character (the protagonist) want?
The story needs to be about the main character's journey. What does this person want at the beginning of the story? Do they get what they want at the end? - eg. yes with a romance.  If the main character does get what they want, there needs to be conflict (internal and/or external) and they need to overcome several obstacles first.
The main character needs to drive the plot forwards by the decisions he or she makes.  It's all right to have the odd coincidence, eg. heroine bumping into the hero in a cafe, but sometimes it might work better if eg. the heroine is in the cafe because she knows the hero will be there.
The main character needs to change (internally or externally)
I always think of Melanie Griffiths' character in Working girl.  At the beginning of the film, she has long hair, lacks confidence and she lets her boyfriend tell her what to do.  Then she gets a haircut, pretends to be her boss while her boss is away ski-ing and oozes confidence by the end of the film. Internal transformations work as well.  The heroine may be insecure at the beginning of the story or be struggling to come to terms with something that has happened. By the end of the story, she may have overcome this hurdle.
Work out the main plot using Aristotle's Incline
Link attached.
Write in scenes using Aristotle's Incline (the key scenes are the framework of the novel)
Think of your book as though it's a film. Use favourite films of the same genre as your book to help you. I've plotted 'The Grandson' using an excel spreadsheet.  Each scene is on there and the plots and subplots are marked in different colours.
Once you have decided who your main characters are, you need an antagonist (you can have a few but one needs to do most of the work).  The antagonist needs to try and stop the main character from getting what they want.  It is useful if the main character has a confidante.  This confidante can be used to help the main character get what they want. Also the main character can have conversations with the confidante about what they are thinking/ feeling.  This saves having to put all of this info into narrative
What is the main character thinking?
When I first had my writing critiqued in classes, the comments were always 'I want to know what Jessica is thinking'.  (Jessica is my main character) Although I knew what she was thinking, I wasn't making it clear to the reader.  It's easy enough to put these thoughts between bits of dialogue or in a paragraph at the beginning of a scene.
Include reactions
If the heroine is the main character and there's a scene where eg. the hero and heroine fall out, the scene which follows need to show the heroine's reaction.
Dialogue/ Narrative balance
Too much dialogue or too much narrative can make it difficult for the reader to enjoy the story. The dialogue takes you into the scene.  The narrative slows it down.
Dialogue - a way to write it
1. When writing dialogue, it works well if you put it in the following order: reaction, action, dialogue. (you don't always need reaction and action) 
2. It's a good idea to put what the character is doing now and again in between the dialogue so the scene can be pictured.
3. It's an opportunity to put in backstory information (ie. what happened before the beginning of the novel)
4. See my previous post re using dialect and other languages in dialogue.

Eg.       ‘This would never have happened if you hadn’t have taken her to Italy,’ Mary said.
[Mother lifted the cosy off the teapot, which Mary had left there earlier to brew and poured herself a cup of tea through the strainer.] what character is doing- action
‘I took her to Italy because you wouldn’t come,’ Mother said.
 [Everything had changed since Sergio Benedetti turned up at the farm that day.  Mary wished it had never have happened.] reaction/ backstory [She picked up a tea towel and dried the plates in the washing up rack.] action
‘You could have found someone else to go with,’ Mary said.
‘She needed to get out of this village,’ Mother said.

5.         He said, she said or he asked, she asked, work well with dialogue.  There is no need to      say: he said quietly, he whispered, he shouted.  It should be clear from the dialogue      that this is what the character is doing.        
Point of View
Two to three points of view work well in a novel.  Any more may be too much. Omniscient isn't used much these days and it's best to write in the point of view of the main character and one or two other characters. One point of view per scene works best too. When writing from the point of view of a character, only write what they would see, feel or say. If they wouldn't use a fancy word to describe the sunset, it can't be used when writing in their point of view.
Show don't tell - but don't show too much
Emma Darwin explains this perfectly in her blog post attached.
Use 'Cut to' (like in films)- recommended in The Weekend Novelist Redrafts the novel  by Robert J. Ray
If there's a six month gap in the story between the hero and heroine seeing each other for example, you don't need to write a long explanation about what happened in that time.  You can just cut to a scene six months later and feed in relevant information about what has happened during that time.
Overwriting and repetition
Don't overwrite, ie use flowery words which you wouldn't normally use.  Try not to say the same thing twice.  Don't use too many adjectives and adverbs. Find the right verb rather than use an adverb.  Ie. He ran quickly could be he raced.
There is plenty more.  This is just a summary of the most important points in my opinion, learnt from classes, books etc. Below are a handful of useful books to look at when it comes to knocking the first draft into shape.  There are more but these are the ones I've used most. Some of the books on this list have different methods of working from each other.  I've taken from them what I think works for my novel.
The Weekend Novelist Redrafts the novel (The Weekend Novelist may be a useful reference for first draft too) by Robert J. Ray
Novel Writing 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall
Solutions for Novelists, Secrets of a Master Editor by Sol Stein
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Do you have anything to add to the above and can you recommend any other useful books? I'd be interested to read your comments.