Thursday, December 20, 2012

Who's a Friend of the Big Bad Wolf?

What an interesting question.  I managed to avoid nearly an hour of horrible first draft production, staring out of the window, thinking about it.

And the answer is . . . well, sort of. 

I write seatopants-style so very often the one I thought dunnit turns out not to have in the end and I suppose you could say switching a character from "murderer" to "non-murderer" is a bit of a moral upgrade.

One time I really did turn someone from a moustache-twirling, cape-swirling baddy (bwah-hah-hah, all that) to a bunny-hugging (well, bunny-shooting since it was the 1920s and this person was a countrydweller but let's not quibble) poppet.  But I did it after the character was dead so there wasn't much in it for them.

Usually though, it's a question of ever-increasing complexity.  I can't decide whether it's a drawback or a side-benefit of writing a series that minor comic characters grow and deepen over the course of a few books so that you can't use them for cheap laughs any more.

Dandy Gilver's husband, Hugh, was pretty much a stuffed shirt in the first book or two, but as I've written about his childhood, his reaction to his wife being in danger, his fears for his teenage sons as the clouds of war begin to gather, I've grown fonder of him and developed a grudging respect.  In the last two books I've given him a moment of glory to off-set the fact that I still laugh at his fossilised take on the world.

And actually,as I write this I remember that a few years ago, in a different frame of mind, and under a pseudonym (although not very far under: it was Catriona McCloud) I wrote a slightly cross-genre, tricky to decribe and therefore tricky to keep in print, puzzle novel called Straight Up which had a massive shift along the scale of sympathy for one of the characters.

I'm being cryptic because tis is the season and so I've decided to give a couple of copies of Straight Up away (should anyone want one).  In short, if you'd care to read a crime/road/buddy caper about lies, fibs, whoppers, tall tales and total bull in which a depressed florist takes on Hollywood and wins (kind of), just comment and I'll draw names  at the end of today. (With regret, US only.)

Whatever you're reading on the days off next week, though, have a wonderful feast/rest/holiday, won't you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Imaginary Friends

“How much do you know about a character’s back story before you write word one?  Or do you just wing it?”

Any question along the lines of “How much careful, painstaking, industrious _____ do you do or do you just _____?” is always going to go the same way with me.  “Just” is the operative word.
Some call it organic; some call it shambolic; I call it the Benny Hill method, as I’ve said before.  Brakes off at the top of the hill and go (bathtub optional).

And it’s so organic/shambolic, the bathtub goes whizzing down so fast, that very often I can’t answer questions about method at all.  I really don’t know. 
At the moment, however, it’s all quite fresh in my mind because I’m 1500 words into a new story, not part of my series.  So since a week past Monday I’ve invented three main characters and thirteen minor ones.

Here’s what I know about the big three, five pages in. 
I know their first and last names, no idea what middle names if any.  I know roughly how old they are but I’ll need a perpetual calendar of the 20th century at some point to work it out properly.   I know where one of them lives in precise detail, floor plan of her house, all that.  I know what city the other two live in and that one has a house and one a flat.  I’ll need to go out for a stroll with Google’s wee orange man later. 

I don’t know where any of them were born, but I know they crossed paths in their youth, so I’ll need to sort that out too.   I know the marital status of one, have got a bit of a clue (the name of an ex-girlfriend) about another, have got not the first clue about the third.   If his wife turns up while I’m writing, I’ll know then.   I do know what jobs they do; none of them is a cop, detective, sleuth or pathologist.

How did I find out?  By writing their evolving names over and over again on sheets of scrap paper and thinking about them.  I’m riffling through the heap of paper now and it really is just names.  This is the first time I’ve realised that.
One final thing: I know exactly what they look like (found out by repeatedly writing their names (does this sound as bonkers as it feels to me?)) and by about 30,000 words it’ll start to annoy me that I’ve never seen them.  Then I go looking for pictures of them.  Since this is a modern story I’ll trawl the internet, magazines, newspapers, yearbooks, anywhere I can think of, until I find them.  (When I’m writing Dandy Gilver, set in the 1920s, I have to use old photos. )

And I’ll know them when I see them.  I’ll recognise them.  Then I’ll photocopy or print out the pictures, staple them to pieces of card and prop them up on my desk while we all write the rest of the story together.  Writing isn’t lonely if you’re not actually alone.