A couple of weeks ago, Huw emailed us about a promotion he was running to benefit ShelterBox, an international relief organisation that provides emergency help to families who have lost their home as a result of disasters. Half of the royalties from his book The Vault will benefit this worthy cause. Check Huw’s blog for more information.
I’ve managed this approach with several of my books. Problem is, though, my novels generally develop a life of their own and the little critters don’t always do what I tell them.
I do plan to some degree – principally to ensure continuity – but I’m much more of an intuitive writer. I generally know where I want to go but I work from a road atlas, not a detailed map with every contour and feature carefully plotted.
With my mystery thriller The Vault, I think I must have hit roadworks. Either that or I’d got the pages of the road atlas jumbled up.
Shortly after starting my journey, I found myself with a book that involved four separate – seemingly unconnected – sets of route instructions (storylines). And while these four trips overlapped, they weren’t even taking place at the same time.
It’s not that I set out to make life difficult for myself, or my readers. It’s just where the story took me!
Anyway – leaving the road trip metaphor for the moment – whether it’s just because of the complex plot I don’t know but The Vault was probably the book over which I’ve moaned, cursed and despaired the most.
It began with an idea for a scenario describing a night-time kidnapping. This evolved into a longer story about an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire – coupled with a parallel tale involving schoolboys playing in an overgrown wood. (There is a connection, honest.)
I think I got about a third of the way into the book – and had an ending in mind – when I ground to a halt. Something wasn’t working. There was no flow, no ease to the story. It just didn’t feel right.
I shelved the project for a while. Several months later, I went away for a weekend course on screenwriting and, afterwards, decided to try turning what I’d written for The Vault into a film script.
It was a move that transformed the process. I began to think of my story in much more visual terms. What would viewers (readers) see? What did the image convey? How did it relate to the story? What was its purpose?
Thinking in terms of a script also focussed me on the dialogue, something that previously wasn’t one of my strong points.
The Vault never made it into a becoming a full-length screenplay but taking a different approach to the story cleared my mental blockage.
I went back to the novel and wrote the rest of it with real purpose. It was complex but not impossible. I kept thinking in visual terms, imagining the story as if it were scenes from a film or TV show.
I also tried to keep my focus on the purpose of each scene. What was it there for? Was it a complete digression (always tempting) or did it add to the overall story?
I wouldn’t say it made me a completely ruthless editor. I’m not one of those authors who delete every line unless it moves the story on. Personally, I don’t mind the odd moment of humour, romance, background etc.
As a writer you’ve just need to keep a tight grip on the purple prose and make sure any flights of fancy words are little flashes – short enough for those who don’t like that kind of thing to skip over but entertaining for those that do.
With The Vault, I think the end result was a good book. It’s not perfect but it’s a complex, multi-layered mystery that mixes action and suspense and – I hope – brings in some characters that readers will find very real and believable.
I’m not sure I’d chose to write such an involved novel a second time… but there again, I’m only the guide on the tour bus, I don’t plan the itinerary.
The Vault is available at Amazon.
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