Friday, September 07, 2007

COVER TO COVER: In the beginning...

Welcome to my new series COVER TO COVER, a 'how to write a novel' snapshot taking you through from start to finish of the Harlequin Romance I have just started.

I decided to blog about this process because I'm using a new technique to write this one and feel like it's my first book all over again! So bear with me...

By far, the most common question I get asked as an author is 'where do you get your ideas?'
My standard answer is everywhere! That's not being trite, it's so very true: a newspaper headline, a magazine article, a facial expression on an actor's face...ideas spring from everywhere. (They also tend to spring most often in that drowsy state between sleep and consciousness so always keep a notebook by the bed!)

Until now, my story ideas have been PLOT driven.
That is, an idea for a plot will spring to mind and I invent the characters to fit the plot.
For example, in my recent Harlequin Romance PRINCESS AUSTRALIA, I saw a newspaper article featuring concierges from major Melbourne hotels and knew I had to write a book centered around a hotel plot. Then I thought 'wouldn't it be great to have a heroine in this role...but she actually owns the hotel...and who would she meet at the hotel to really turn her head...oh, I know, a prince!'

With INHERITED: BABY, the book was written around Melbourne Cup time, the horse race that stops a nation, so I had an entire plot right there.
In BIG-SHOT BACHELOR, my first Harlequin Modern Extra, I made several trips to Brunswick Street, Melbourne's boho centre, and knew a plot featuring this amazing cultural experience was just waiting to be hatched.

So you get the idea? (no pun intended!) I choose a plot first, then match the characters to that particular plot.

With COURTING CUPID, my new work in progress, I've reversed the process and started with the characters first. Why? Because I like a challenge, I want to add depth to my characters, I want to take my writing to the next level, and because my editor suggested it! (always a good reason for a change!!)

In COURTING CUPID, I wanted 2 characters who are in such total opposition with their goals and motivations that they had no option but to be in total conflict, and a conflict which will deepen as the story progresses.
So I thought 'what could be more difficult to overcome than a cynical, divorced heroine pitted against a laid-back, romantic hero who wants a family above all else?'
From this original idea, I have fleshed out the characters, spent time interviewing them and collaged them (more about all these processes under 'characterisation' early next week.)
The characters have come alive. I can see them. I'm inside their heads. I know what they're feeling.
And the plot has developed from there.

So which method do you use? Are your stories plot or character driven?

(PS. Thanks for all your fabulous suggestions for naming my fictional cafe. I'll let you know the results early next week!)


Jenna Bayley-Burke said...

WEIRD! I am doing the same thing. Well, almost. I knew I'd put them in Hawaii...and Tessa requested a firefighter... but beyond that there is no plot. Just the lawyer who almost dies in a fire and the firefighter who finds cliff diving relaxing.

Nicola Marsh said...

Interesting, Jenna. Have you done this before, starting with characters rather than plot?
Will be interested to hear how you find it?

Natasha said...

I always ALWAYS start with my characters. But I have never filled out a character sheet in my life. I've done collages for the last couple of books but only because I've been playing and I'm not sure it's helped any.

'Interviewing' characters is quite an interesting idea. Some directors do that in theatre and call it the 'hot seat'. It's good fun and a great way of giving everyone else an idea of what's going on with any particular character. Quite often I found myself saying something I wasn't aware I thought!

Lovely truffles btw!

Margaret Mayo said...

I've never consciously thought about whether my books are plot or character driven. A bit of both I think. Although in the book I'm currently revising I did 'interview' my characters. I think writing techniques have changed since I started in the 70s. There are far more 'how to' books around. And I'm beginning to look at my own method of writing.

Rachael Blair said...

Can't wait to read your journey through this next Romance...

Is it possible to start in the middle of plot and characters - I think that's what I do... and I need to fatten both elements up a lot more.

Nicola Marsh said...

Natasha, your books are filled with emotion and very real, which comes from starting with characters, I think? 'Hot seat' sounds intriguing...

Margaret, I never used to think about how my books were written, I just used to sit and write them, but I've done a lot of technical research on 'how to's lately and it's really making me evaluate my own writing.

Rach, you can start anywhere but I'm a plotter so find it easier to write sequentially, whereas I know authors who write scenes all over the place then piece them together.