Tag Archives: plot

You gotta fight for your right to story!

Phil: Last week, we explained that neither of us (OK, mostly me) always get our own way when writing.

After the post, the discussion continued. I finished the first draft of the scene I was working on thinking it had been suitably adjusted to take into account my friend’s suggestions.

Apparently not. Or at least she fired back a few more. To be honest, I could see where she was coming from. The feedback made me ponder some aspects and we bashed a few e-mails back and forth. The details aren’t yet sorted out, but we both feel that fundamentally, the scene does what we need at that point in the story.

This might not sound fun, but I feel it’s an important part of our writing.

If you work on your own, the first useful feedback you’ll get will be from an editor. They will challenge you on plot points and the way the story runs. Then it’s up to you to fix things.

We don’t have this. For a plotline to appear in the book, it gets beaten around a bit. Some sections get more of the thrashing than others but the important part is we challenge each other, make each other think AND help with those thoughts. “I’m not sure about THIS, but what if we did THAT.” is a common phrase. We both present problems and solutions. Eventually, even we can’t tell who wrote each scene, which is how it should be.

Two heads are definitely better than one.

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Get the facts right

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Candice: If you had been sat near Phil and I in Costa Coffee in Henley in Arden on Monday you might have wondered what was going on.  We’d had a disjointed meet up as it was – the first coffee house we’d gone to informed us that they were closing in an hour.  Ah, we thought, as I am on a drive to use local places, not chains, bang goes that idea.

So a quick cuppa in there and then down to the Costa, which was full of people with laptops (or having loud conversations with HMRC which is another story).  After an hour of writing, plus some coffee and cookie-fueled help, we passed our laptops over to see what each other had written.

I’d been focusing on the earlier story in the book.  My job recently has been to go back and check on what we have written: facts, continuity, stuff like that.  Phil has been very focused on one pivotal scene mid-book which pushes us towards the big finish.

Having read Phil’s scene there was one thing I wasn’t sure about. Would it actually happen like that?  I quizzed him.  He explained his thoughts.  But I still sat there going – ‘so what?’.

I know this is fiction but I don’t want something to be so glaring that it makes someone step out of the book and then lose their ability to suspend disbelief.  Saoirse Ronan had done that for me the other week as she chatted on Graham Norton about ‘Mary – Queen of Scots’.  A scene in the film shows Mary and Queen Elizabeth meeting – something that didn’t happen in real life.  I assume the writer wanted to bring out things that had been conveyed in their letters and this was the easiest way to do it on film.  However, when I watched the film yesterday I sat there at that point in the film thinking to myself  ‘this didn’t happen.’  It ruined to ending of a good film for me.

So for ten minutes, I pushed him on his logic, asking why the characters were doing what they were doing.  The man behind us in his business suit was doing his level best to pretend he was concentrating on his laptop but when we mentioned Councillor I’m sure he twitched.

We got there in the end, but I’m sure Phil wondered why I’d got such a bee in my bonnet. Well, its got to make sense.  Else its just going to annoy me and the readers – that’s why.

Phil: This story illustrates why we can write as a team so well.

I tend to let the story flow when writing the first draft, but having presented the words to my mate and been quizzed about the direction I was taking, we beat the idea about a bit. Eventually, I managed to work out where the story should be going in reasonable detail.

Having a sounding board is really useful and we’re pretty good at fulfilling this role for each other. It helps that we can both take a bit of criticism without flouncing off in a huff. It certainly saves time because we don’t need the re-writes you have to go through when working on your own when realising bits of the story don’t hang together.

 

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Having the faith to put yourself in the book

Phil: Last week, I wrote that I felt the need for a nice, readable story and thanks to my local library had picked up A Brush With Death by Ali Carter.

I’m pleased to say it ticked the boxes perfectly. A pleasant read with a reasonably easy to follow plot that fitted my day. Doing a little digging, apparently this fits into the “Cozy Crime” genre. Think Miss Marple with a little less bite.

The plot is simple enough, Lord of the Manor dies, the police decide it’s murder and artist Susie Mahl solves the crime. I guessed whodunit pretty early in the book, but this didn’t spoil things – in fact I wanted to see if I was right. I was, although the method I had settled on wasn’t quite correct.

There are a couple of areas where the book stands out.

First, we learn a great deal about the English upper classes. If I ever find myself called to stay for the weekend at a great country house, I will have a better understanding of the protocol thanks to this book. We learn that all houses tend to run to a timetable, and once you know this, you can plan your trips snooping around. Stick to the rules, including not marrying anyone beneath your station, and everyone will get along swimmingly.

My main fascination was with the lead character, Susie Mahl, herself. She’s an artist who has found painting dog portraits to be a lucrative job. Handily, it sees her invited to many country seats for the weekend, you need to get to know the pooch to render them in paint. Apparently, this pays enough to buy a house in Sussex and a lot of very expensive luxury underwear. This detail is covered repeatedly.

Why? Because art follows life. It turns out that Ali Carter paints pet portraits and likes luxury underwear.

The most unusual aspect of Susie though is that she is a fairly strict catholic. At one point she goes to mass and also hints at disproval of divorce. Religion plays very little part in British novels, in fact I can’t think of a character who has expressed any interest in this direction. OK, we have Bother Cadfael and Father Brown, but they are monk and priest respectivly – it’s a massive part of their character. What I mean is we rarely see religion being part of a “normal” person’s life in this way.

It’s odd that this should leap out at me. In America and many other parts of the world, religion is a massive part of many people’s lives. You very much wear it on your sleeve. Politically, following the right flavour of God can be more important in the decisions a voter makes than a candidates policies or behaviour. Despite this, I don’t reacall many modern day American novels showing the impact of belief on their character.

My guess is that this is another area where author and character cross over. The interview I linked to above mentions a post-accident pilgrimage, but never explicitly mentions this being a religious one. That’s simply not how we do stuff in Britian. The Church of England is as inoffensive as possible and rarely do we have the zealots found in other branches of faith.

Ultimatly, “Write what you know” is an oft trotted out maxim, and one Ali Carter appears to have taken to heart, with interesting results. Susie Mahl is a stand-out character and will easily carry the three-novel deal Ms Carter has landed. She’d probably make a good TV drama too, something for the Sunday evening wind-down slot on BBC 1. However, I wonder if her faith will make the transition to the screen?

 

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Boozing our way through the difficult third novel

Phil: Book 3 is proving tricky. We need our main character to go through a significant change during the story and it’s all going to be quite emotional.  To this end, we’ve not involved her much in the comedy strand, which has progressed quite nicely without her.

The trouble with this is, that we now need to work out her path through the book, and try not to make it either miserable, or unrealistic. There will be no lightbulb moments that aren’t the result of a bit of personal growth. Readers are not to think, “where did that come from?” when Big Moments happen.

So, we meet up in Ikea’s cafe. Not our normal place of “work” but someone needed storage boxes, and it’s not a long way out for me. In fact, on the way I managed to find an interesting shop and was involved in a chat about 3D printers when the “I’m in the cafe” text arrived instructing me to attend.

I had had the foresight to arrive by bus and so when choosing lunchtime supplies, realised that a little alcohol to grease the creative brain cells wasn’t out of the question. To whit, I grabbed a can of Cider Apple and some meatball based food. 0.1% ABV – no slouch me, a couple of these and I’d be outside shouting at pigeons!

After a bit of chat, we felt that it was time to move on. Most of Coventry had decided to bring their children in for the day to add a flourish to the end of the school holidays. That meant the normally tranquil restaurant was transformed into a scene of mayhem, not conducive to producing great works of literature.

Next stop – a pub. We do good work in pubs, but of course, you must have a drink.

My first thought had been tea, but when Miss Prim and Proper ordered lemonade, I changed my order to a shandy.

And it worked. We both feel this book is hard going. There are loads of scenes written, but the love story, apparently so easy on initial inspection, has turned out to be more complicated than we thought.

After an hour or so of debate and pondering, we are pretty certain we’ve nailed it. Some of the work we’ve done needs to be moved in the timeline, a few bits go in the bin. No matter, the plotlines are basically mapped out and they seem to make sense. Candice has written the bare bones of a pivotal scene and sent it to me for added comedy and fiddling.

We are on our way! Now, where did that traffic cone come from?

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Throwing a spanner in the works

 

Phil: I know I am a writer, because sometimes I get an idea in my head and it bounces around my tiny brain until I’ve written it down. It’s almost like I’m pouring the words out of my ear.

Last week, we met up for a planning session, Candice produced a timeline in different colours to help our thinking and in my mind, our discussions had started an idea forming.

My work is a bit stupid busy sometimes, but I have managed to find a semi-regular writing slot late on a Thursday evening, so I sat at my laptop and started typing. A couple of hours later, the scene was complete and unexpectedly, had turned out to be rather more pivotal to the overall story than I’d expected. I tend to just write and let the plot flow. Editing is for later, first, the words have to head to the other half of the team for approval.

It’s a slightly nervous wait for each of us as the other is reading. We both want a “Well done” but are happy to take criticism – from each other at least. I was confident though, this was good stuff.

The response, “Hum. You’ve thrown a spanner in my works.”

Oh.

“But I like this and it’s not in the timeline.”

I scramble to find the timeline and look through. When I came up with the idea, I thought I knew where it fitted.  Sadly, it didn’t quite slot in as I’d hoped, a bit like an annoying jigsaw piece that you are sure should go in one of the remaining holes, but stubbornly won’t go in no matter how hard you push.

Never mind, I’m not precious about it. I just needed to stop the idea bouncing off the insides of my head. We exchanged a few more e-mails looking at the plan and finally, I opened one to read,

“Hang on I think I’ve got it…”

Result! With a little bit of re-working, this idea does move the story forward. It isn’t going to slot in quite where I thought it would, but like the jigsaw, if you attach it to the big pile of pieces already assembled, it helps complete the picture.

I’m pleased with the result, after a bit of worry, my new words are an excellent fit for a major turning point 2/3rds of the way through the book. They galvanize our heroine and stir her into action. An action that will culminate in the love story reaching the place we planned it to be by the end of the book and blasting through a couple of major impediments along the way (can you tell how hard I’m trying to avoid spoilers?).

Writing as a team isn’t always plain sailing, but working this way brings a dynamic to the early stages I don’t think you find plodding away on your own. Knowing that someone else who cares about the book as much as I do is about the comment keeps me on my toes!

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Yin and Yang

Image result for post it notes on a tableCandice: Phil wanted me to write about our trip to the Writing West Midlands event, which I will do, but actually I thought it would be good to comment on our meet to discuss Book 3 on Friday.

People always ask us how we write as a partnership, who does what, and how it works.  To be honest, it’s like being in a working relationship with anyone, some are better at some bits than others.  I’m more ‘task’ focused and Phil can be more ideas.  We are each others ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’. I can be as creative as you like when the need takes me but I had limited time on Friday for discussions so wanted to get our timeline sorted.  Why was the timeline so important?  Well, we had reached that point, 35k words in, that we’d written lots of sections that tailed off at the end because we kept asking the question ‘what happens next?’.

Everything, whether book or work project has a beginning, middle and end.  There are probably ups and downs before you get there but without knowing your end goal then you won’t be able to achieve it through these bumps.  Writing is the same, if you don’t know where your characters end up, all the lovely set pieces and plotting come to squat as you end up writing something that doesn’t make sense.

Part of the other problem with Phil and I is we like a chat.  He talked about his holiday, I talked about mine and the next thing we knew an hour was gone.  Then he starting firing storyline ideas at me.  I had to put my hand up and say ‘STOP’.  The ideas might all be great but we need the timeline.

The other thing you need to make sure you can deliver on your project is the right tools.  I hadn’t ga ot pen or paper so off I walked to WHSmiths and bought post-it notes and coloured pens and then we were ready.

The first job was to write out what we’d already written and put it in the correct order (as in the book it’s not linear).  And then work out the gaps.  Time was ticking and it became like a game of ‘Countdown’ – we’ve got two minutes how do we solve it.

In the end, we only built the comedy storyline, the love one still needs work, but that means that a few more thousand words can be written; and a few other ideas were bounced around.

Tea drunk and off home I went, feeling satisfied with our activity.  Now I just need the time to write 🙂

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National Writing Day 2018 – What are you writing?

Phil: It’s National Writing Day, which seems as good an opportunity as any to give you all an update on how team NolanParker are getting on.

Progress is being made on Book 3. Not fast, but definite progress. As ever, writing sessions are intermittent but we are getting the words down.

In our early days, I was worried about the balance between main story arc and funny stuff.  The Kate/Dave love story needs to move forward and in this book and it gets a little heavy and dramatic at points. This is lightened by the story around the firm they are closing down (or are they?) where are comic side comes out. At one point, we had loads of ideas for the love story but the funny stuff looked thin.

A few weeks and several discussions later, we have loads of funny stuff. It just came out of nowhere. Some of it absolute filth (in a funny way, at least for me as I can deny all knowledge when my mother reads it) too! The story has really taken off and we are coming up with loads of ideas. There is also the chance for some proper character development too. Tracey gets to shine a bit in this book and show a different side to her character – something my mother will approve of. It’s amazing just how the imaginary people we write about start doing their own thing once we let them.

Anyway, I am determined to write something this evening and not for work. If I don’t, Candice is going to shout at me on Saturday…

 

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