Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Getting stuck - and unstuck

I've been stuck with the sequel to Heart of Bone; largely because I haven't had the time to sit down and persist until I know what I'm doing. I like everything I've written, but all is not well. You know what they say about eggs and bacon? The hen's involved, the pig's committed. I've got to chapter six, and my heroine Caz is the hen when she should be the pig. Something has to change.

I always hope the solution to this sort of problem will come in a flash to me while I shop at Waitrose, or bike home, or queue in the Post Office, but actually it seldom does. I think it was Kingsley Amis who said, you need to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

There are many ways one can, in Holly Lisle's words, mug the Muse.
  • Keep saying, What would happen if... until you strike gold
  • Do some research into your characters' interests, or where they live
  • Write a short story or a poem as a creative break
  • Read a good novel
  • Look for loose ends that you can turn into something new
  • Re-assess what's at stake for each character
  • Write a letter from each character to yourself

I've just done this with one character, Jasper Egan. He turns out to be rather rude.

Hi Lexi,

You don’t know much about me, do you? Any more than Caz does. I find that quite amusing – after all, I wouldn’t exist but for you.

Let’s see what you do know about me. My name, of course – though I happen to know, you really wanted to call me J***** D***** after that writer you’ve got some grudge against, but you haven’t quite got the bottle to pinch his whole name, have you? And you’ve got some idea of what I look like. Tall and not bad-looking, I think sums it up. And late thirties, which you refer to as being an older man. From Caz’s point of view, this, hardly from yours. Plus I’m a rich and successful artist, whose art isn’t quite as repellent as you find most modern art...

I'm going to stop him right there. He gets more offensive, and it's a spoiler.


  1. My thoughts about getting Caz into the story:

    - Do your worst to her. Imagine the worst thing that can happen and then spring it on her at the worst time.

    - Take away the thing most important to Caz. Now. Make her fight to get it back.

    - Make her adversary much stronger and with fewer qualms about violence than Caz possesses.

    - Make the danger visceral

    - Have Caz haunted by past failures and present phobias (that are the result of past failures and traumas).

    - Leave no exit for Caz with time running out.

    Good luck.

  2. Thanks, Norm - some ideas there I shall consider. Sequels are tricky, I think, and there are so many published examples that should never have been written that it's discouraging.

    Who has heard of the sequel to 101 Dalmations? Catriona is disappointing, coming after Kidnapped. I love The Bull from the Sea, but Mary Renault worried that it did not have the clear story line of The King Must Die.

  3. What have you got against Jasper Dorgan???

    Timber gives good advice, Lexi. Sometimes I think you are reluctant to be really nasty to your characters. Get mean,it works.

  4. No concealing the truth from you, Justine.

    Jasper Dorgan trashed Trav Zander on YouWriteOn and marked it 11/40 because, as I later discovered, it was the third fantasy he'd been assigned in a row, and he doesn't like fantasy.

    Re nastiness; I do wonder that things we would all hate to happen to us in real life aren't thought nasty enough for fiction. So we slop on the ketchup. It takes a writer of Jane Austen's calibre to make Emma's unkind remark to Miss Bates shocking, no doubt, but that's no reason for the rest of us to abandon subtlety.

  5. Lexi, Come In Character is an awesome place to get to know your characters. It's helped me enormously. You respond to the prompts in your character's voices.

  6. Not working for some reason.

  7. Thanks, Christine, it looks a fun site.

    I shall have a go - maybe start small with one of my dragons, as there seem to be a lot of fantasy and science fiction characters there...

  8. Yes, I'm afraid many of the "normal" characters get frightened away by the vampires. It's a shame, really. We could use more humans.

    Happy New Year!

  9. Another addition to your unblocking schemes is to imagine convesations between your characters, particularly ones that would not necessarily meet in you plot. I have to say that I have sometimes woken up after dreams in which my characters are arguing with each other, or getting up to things that are certainly not in the plot. I usually have to rush downstairs and write something about it just to be able to get back to sleep.

  10. I'll try that, Rod.

    I don't remember having any helpful dreams, though when I'm mid-book, I keep paper and pencil beside the bed in case inspiration strikes. Beats rushing downstairs in the middle of the night.

    (Not that my flat has a downstairs...)