Archive for January, 2014

The small decisions that add up to a book

I’ve just been writing a scene where my main character was on her own, doing something slightly silly, and I knew another character had to appear right beside her and say something, then after a quick chat, we could get on with the rest of the evening’s adventures.

But who should appear? I had a choice : one character might make the next few moments of my main character’s life a bit mysterious, perhaps even creepy; the other character would say something funny and the next few minutes might be a bit embarrassing.

I couldn’t write both options, because the whole point was that the second character arrived when the main character thought she was alone.  So I had to decide between two clear and distinct options for my character’s next few minutes.

And that’s what writing is. It’s about making the small decisions.

I often have huge massive exciting ideas for plots (ooh, what if…?)  but then I have to turn those ideas into book-long adventures. And that process means lots of small decisions along the way. Decisions like this one, which is probably not going to change the wider plot, but will change the feel and tone of this scene, and therefore possibly the next bit of the adventure.

I think stories are made up not just of the big shiny “ooh, what if” ideas, but also these small decisions that writers make about every scene, every bit of dialogue, every bit of action.

So, how did I decide?

First I thought: how do I feel today? Amusing or mysterious? (Actually, I felt indecisive, which was probably why I stopped and wrote a blog post about this decision, rather than just making the decision and moving on…)

Then I thought: which of these two choices would knock my character most off balance? 

And that’s usually how I decide. I consider what my character would prefer. Then I do the opposite! (Because I’m writing this book for the reader to have fun, not for the main character to enjoy herself.)

So, I made my choice. I made the small decision. That scene is drafted. Next I have to get them up a hill, on a cold dark night, to find someone unexpected at the top…

And while I’m off up a hill, here’s a picture of a toad for you, because a toad was one of my two potential sudden-appearance characters.

A toad (somewhere rather magical...)

A toad (somewhere rather magical…)

Is the toad the mysterious one or the amusing one? You‘ll have to wait and read the book!