Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Are You Ready For Chapter Two?

Chapter One was easy. Not so Chapter Two...
Well, hello Chapter Two. I’ve never met a beast like you before. Normally chapters are simple and planned, with two or three characters and a defining incident, ideally following on and explaining the inciting incident of chapter one. I understand them. I’m good at them (sort of). At the very least, I’m not afraid of them.

Not you. You’re a problem for me. I don’t hate you, but you puzzle and confuse me. And you are playing on me the kind of dirty tricks that no plot — let alone a chapter — should ever be allowed to play upon ann innocent author.

For a start, you have cursed me with a heroine who is in a confused state, suffering from hypothermia. She doesn’t know what’s going on. And as I am writing in the first person, you leave me with no opportunity to explain to my readers. She has fallen among strangers (who, thank God, are kind to her). But she has no idea who they are, what they’re doing or why they are doing it and, indeed, doesn’t either see or take in a whole lot of what’s going on. I know, but she doesn’t. And if she can’t tell the reader, then I can’t. Her brain is a crazed mess of feelings and images, suddenly-sharp, unconnected snapshots against a blurred and incomprehensible background. It’s a mess. To read, and to write.

Thanks a lot, Chapter Two.

That’s only the first of your dastardly tricks. There are a lot of strangers — six, in fact, every one of them a new character. She can’t even tell these people apart herself, in the half-light of a power outage and her own confused state. They throw their names at her and she fails to field a single one. So how will my readers know which one is which?

I might be able to handle that. Just. But no. To make matters worse, your co-conspirator, Chapter One, warned me off adding any backstory on his turf. Chapter One is all about action. My mate will deal with the backstory, he said, and set up the perfect opportunity. When our heroine falls among these kindly strangers, they want to know who she is, how she came to be there. You have put the poor girl in a frankly crazy position and she has to explain to these strangers how she came to be there and where she ought to be. (Oh, and some of the things which we’ve already seen happen to her in Chapter One). Further: she may not care, right at that moment, who they are but my readers do.

You’re a challenge to me, but not one I’ll back away from. I’m up for the fight. 

In the red corner, the author. In the blue corner, Chapter Two.

Seconds out…ding-ding!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

An Author in Search of a Plot...

I've been looking back through my photos and it reminded me that it was two years ago that I was in Iceland. This isn’t to brag about my extensive travelling, since virtually everybody I know also seems to have been to the land of ice and fire at some stage, and they all seem equally bowled over by the experience. But this two-year anniversary did get me thinking. 

Normally I’m strongly influenced by location. I know that when I go somewhere I’m going to come back with An Idea — or rather A Plot. There’s always something about the sun or the wine or the mountains that gets the creative juices flowing. Hence my two novels set in beautiful Majorca, not to mention the Lake Garda trilogy. And Looking For Charlotte trades heavily on its setting.

Yet Iceland defeated me. I never had an idea when I was there, though I was constantly haunted by the nagging feeling that I ought to. There were the colours, for a start — the basic black of newly-minted rock; the extraordinary green of mosses that have taken a thousand years to turn that rock into a primitive soil; the blue of an almost-Arctic midsummer sky; the foaming white of a dozen waterfalls. 

Then there were the patterns. The waterfalls that drop vertically over cliffs of banded black and grey ash. The shadows of the canyons carved back into the cliffs. The almost-perfectly-parallel inland cliffs which mark the trench where two continents are being forced apart. The braided channels of glacial rivers on a stony plain. The smoking hillsides as hot water rises to the cold surface and the occasional (every five years or so, on average) firework display as nature comes violently to life. 

And the people. The Icelanders are quirky, different, unafraid of what anyone might think of them. They have an offbeat sense of humour. Most of them believe in fairies (or elves) and will tell you so with a shrug, not caring what you think of them. They are closely tied into their land of sagas and film sets (think Game of Thrones).

There’s no excuse for not having a plot. Everyone else seems to. There’s a thriving Icelandic subgenera of Nordic noir, and the country’s dark and unforgiving interior reputedly inspired Tolkien to create the land of Mordor. But for some reason I can’t seem to find the heart of what I want to write about it. Is it a bleak story of pursuit and destruction? Is it a modern fairy tale of the secret folk who I almost believed in while I was there? Is it a cautionary tale of a writer in search of an elusive plot?

I’ve no idea. I know the story’s there. I’ll just have to go back there to find it…