Strange though it might seem given my lowly standing within the literary world, I am often asked for advice on different aspects of writing. However as someone who has never received or sought any kind of formal training (no need for any comment there thank you!) I have nothing much to fall back on and so in the majority of instances I can only offer advice based on my own experience. Not that there is anything wrong with that of course.
But these last few days, I have been the one seeking advice because I’m confronted with a major quandary and truth to tell, I’m still some way from making a decision.
You see when it comes to writing non-fiction it’s all fairly straightforward. Basic idea, outline, research, tweak outline, write. Easy.
Fiction however, is a different matter and the way I write it very much depends on the genre. For example, if it’s a comedy such as Billy’s Log, I’ll develop a plot and then work on constructing my characters until I know them inside out. For me, that starts with a name, a face and a voice. Once I have those (and they can be based on absolutely anybody from Vinny Jones to my mum) I’ll develop a back story for each of them until they become pretty much real people in my head and only then will I start the actual process of writing the book.
However if it’s a thriller such as The Crew, it’s all about the ending. That after all, is what people tend to remember (and if you doubt that, read the reviews of The Crew on Amazon and see how many people mention the ending) and so I take a great deal of time to get that right before I sort out my characters and start finalising the basic plot which in many respects is only there to get you, the reader, from the beginning to the ending I already have tight in my head.
At that point, I’m ready to start the actual process of writing and the first thing I’ll tackle is the ending. Always. Only once I am totally happy with that will I head for the opening line and go from there.
Now be it comedy or thriller, I always write the actual story in the same way because I’m what is known as a panster. And by that I mean I write by the seat of my pants. I know my characters intimately and I know exactly where they (and by default, the reader) are going but I’m never totally sure how I’m going to get them there.
The joy of writing in this way is that it allows me to be totally flexible with every aspect of the plot. I can add things in, take things out and even go off on completely odd tangents if I want but no matter what I do, I’ll always find a way back to the all important ending. That makes the process much more exciting for me and if I’m excited by what I’m writing when I’m writing it, that can only be a good thing when it comes to the finished product.
However, whilst being flexible is generally a good thing, occasionally it isn’t. And that’s where I am right now.
You see I’m currently working on a new comedy novel and up the two days ago I was more than happy with the way it was unfolding. The story is great, the characters believable and both the dialogue and humour sound. I’d even sent some to a couple of fabulous people who provide me with totally honest feedback on in-work projects and they were both extremely positive. All was looking good and then an idea suddenly hit me.
You see like The Crew and Top Dog, this new book is written in the third person. However, given the emotional journey the central character has to go on coupled with the fact that there will be a lot of ‘me’ in there, it suddenly occurred to me that it might actually be stronger and funnier if it were written in the first person.
Quite why I hadn’t considered this before continues to escape me but the fact is that for whatever reason I hadn’t and so I am now faced with the aforementioned quandary. Do I carry on with my third person version and end up wondering if I made a wrong decision and delivered a weaker book or do I start from scratch on a full first person version even though I’m still not sure if it would work properly.
Of course the obvious thing to do would be to write a new opening in the first person and show that to a few people to get some feedback on which works best. Well I’ve done that and all I’ve ended up with is a 50/50 split. As if that’s not bad enough, the more I read both, the more each version actually feels right.
But I still have to make that all important decision and I have to get it right because once it’s made there will be no going back. If I do decide to change my approach it will require pretty much a full rewrite and whilst that would usually be no problem, I actually have a very tight deadline because this book has to be out ahead of EURO 2012. However in the back of my mind is the nagging thought that if I make the wrong choice I might not realise it until after publication. Can you imagine the horror of that?
Who’d be a bloody writer!
Could I once again say a very humble thank you to everyone who has kept my books so high up in the various online charts. I really do appreciate that you guys spend your hard earned cash on my work and utilise your valuable time reading it which is why I answer every single mail, tweet or Facebook message.
I think that’s the very least I can do!
Oh, and in case you hadn’t realised, this is an old blog and it refers to my latest novel, Wings of a Sparrow which is now available in ebook and print formats.