Story forming

In my last blog , I mentioned I had eight ideas to develop a new storyline for my second novel, but didn’t know which one to choose. After teasing out these ideas further into rough outlines of about three-quarters of a page each, I narrowed the story choice down to three.  Then using some mind mapping software to flush out my ideas further (I tend to think visually), I made my choice.

At that point, it was difficult to resist the urge to fire up my computer and start writing my second novel.  But I didn’t want to repeat the large number of re-writes that I had with my first novel. Therefore I was determined to take the outlining process a stage further and produce  a story board of the principal scenes of the book.  Some authors who like to plot, use scene cards and pin boards to produce a visual representation of the story line.  Unfortunately a pin board is not a particularly attractive feature in a dining room that has to double as my office. So I decided to experiment using story boarding software. The software I chose was Storybook Pro. The principal benefit from this approach was that the story scene structure could be viewed on screen and a detailed outline of the story (about 16 pages in my case) could be produced in hard copy by printing out the scenes. The software was relatively easy to use and did not disappoint.

Most of the storyboarding was completed within a week. But when I read  the outline,  I realised the storyline I had produced just didn’t work. There was something missing.  If I had not gone through the story-boarding route and started writing I am sure that sooner or later I would have recognised what the problem was, but I would have probably wasted 25,000-50,000 words to find it.

So what was my problem you might ask.  The story just wasn’t exciting enough;  and the reason was I had a light weight antagonist. Not all stories or genres need a strong antagonist.  But my story definitely needed one.  And if you have a bad guy, he has to have his own story; he can’t just turn up in the final battle scene to make the hero look good. Story forming is therefore not just about a plot-line, but it is also about the characters and how that plot-line affects them.  In my case, I had casted the hero and heroine and threw them into the plot, but had forgotten about one of the most important characters of all – the antagonist.

In some genres, particularly action stories or horror stories, the antagonist is absolutely vital. For example, in the action movie Die Hard, what would John McClane (Bruce Willis) have been without the evil Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman)? In the Dark knight where would Batman (Christian Bale) be without the Joker (Heath ledger)? In other genres, the antagonist may be not be a character but something more abstract like the elements or environment.

So I have learnt and important lesson, and still have some work to do on character development before I can start writing in earnest.

Finally published!

On the 29 October 2012, and after nearly two years in development, I published my novel, “Collision – A Sci Fi Romance”. It took less than an hour to actually publish the book on Amazon. Even for a technophobe like me, the process was simplicity itself. I simply followed the input screens on Amazon and uploaded the file and cover. The following day I got an e-mail from Amazon telling me it had been published. I went onto the site, and there it was. Amazing.

Does this mean anyone can self publish a novel on Amazon Kindle? The answer is ‘yes’; but of course there is the small matter of actually writing the book in the first place. That means you need an idea for a book and a great deal of will and determination to follow it through. Many, of course, start to write with good intentions, but after a few thousand words give up in despair. It is not as easy as it seems. Some might even finish the first draft and then despair at the thought of editing the draft; a process that can be as long as the process of writing itself.

In my case, I had a slight advantage; I had written two non-fiction books before, one of which went through six editions, and I had acted as editor of a technical newsletter for one of the largest firms of accountants in the world. I had also contributed chapters to a number of other publications and published a lot of articles. I knew I had the basic writing skills; but could I write fiction? As I was to discover the world of fiction was a totally new experience for me.

At about 25,000 words I started to falter; I had concerns about the plot, about the characters, about dialogue, and about virtually everything.  And I realised that I needed to do much more research about how to write fiction. So I did, what I suspect most newbie writers do; I read dozens of ‘how to write fiction’ books. I have quite a library of them now. Most of them are very good, and will help you identify what you are doing wrong. But don’t expect them to turn you into a Stephen King or a Dan Brown. They won’t. At best they will get you to look at the way an author is telling a story in a different way.

I said earlier that it had taken almost two years to produce the book. It’s taken longer than I expected; but there was a lot to learn during the process and I am still learning. Perhaps the next will take far less.