5 June 2018

Should I Be Looking In or Out of the Box? Or who needs a box anyway?

Tuesday Talk with Helen Hollick

Anyone who thinks that writing a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, is as easy as pie has clearly never written an entire book right through to ‘the end’. Some of it is easy. Sometimes it seems easy, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of actually getting a book to that final publication stage the big question ‘why on earth am I doing this?’ can be one of those unanswerable questions - apart from 'because I'm bonkers'.

Creating a novel (or a non-fiction book, but I’m sticking to novels for this article) is hard work. No, it isn’t merely a case of sitting  down at a cosy desk tapping merrily away at a keyboard, the words flowing freely from the mind, down through the fingers and appearing ‘Hey Presto’ on the screen in front of you. Writing means getting a story written so that it is a readable, enjoyable, entertaining, gripping, page-turner of a read. Without any (or all) of those your book will not get beyond being a tiny piece of plankton floating around in the vast ocean that is the literary world. Well, for all practical purposes as far as writers are concerned, the vast ocean that is Amazon. The on-line book store, not the river.

Apart from the actual writing there is the thinking up the idea in the first place, then getting a first draft written, then the re-write, and the next re-write. Then several edits and probably a couple more re-writes. (And I can guarantee there will still be errors and typos!) Then trying to find an agent, or giving up on that and deciding to go self-published  -  ‘indie’. Which will include finding a good cover designer, and avoiding all the pitfalls that can drown an indie writer. Oh, and did I mention editing?

Eventually, hopefully, you will end up with a cracker of a novel which receives fantastic reviews and sells better than hot cakes. (Even with those dastardly missed typos that definitely weren't there at the proof read stage but mysteriously manifested themselves the moment the button to print was pushed.)

That all sounds do-able!’ Do I hear you say?
It is. That is what writing is all about, and there are professional editors, and critiquers and cover designers, all eager to help you. (For a fee, of course - and please, do be wary of the 'cowboy' charlatans who tout online for business - they are out there by the bookful.)

But there is a but. A big one.

To write a good novel you need an idea. 
And then a plot. 
You need the characters to people that plot, need to think up who they are, what they do, why they do it and what happens to them while they are doing it, or after they have done it. 

So you need a box. A story box in which to store all those ideas pouring (or sauntering) into your mind. It is a mind box, a little compartment in your brain where you stash your ideas. Or a spreadsheet, or a word.doc where you jot down your thoughts. It can be a big box or a little box, a wooden box, a cardboard box… a blue box, a red box… 

And all that thinking can be easy. Or it can be the ‘here I get stuck’ bit, especially if you want to write a series, like I am doing for my Sea Witch Voyages. So then, if you are stuck, you need to think outside of the box, don’t you? Assuming you have a box in the first place to think outside of.

The Sea Witch Voyages are nautical adventures for adults, with a touch of fantasy. Think the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Entertaining fun, with a drop-dead gorgeous pirate for a lead character. Mine is Captain Jesamiah Acorne, with Tiola, a white witch, as his girlfriend. Jesamiah is Jack Sparrow, Jack Aubrey, Horatio Hornblower, Indiana Jones, Richard Sharpe and James Bond all rolled into one.
My tagline is,Trouble follows Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake.’

Everything for writing the first novel, Sea Witch, came to me as if by magic. Plot, characters, situations – I wrote the first full draft in just under three months. I had no idea, at that point, that this was going to be the first of a series, but I had so much fun writing it, and I had totally fallen in love with Jesamiah, that I had to write another adventure about him. So Pirate Code followed which was harder to write because I found I was a little bit stuck inside the box -  the prospect of writing Voyage Two  was daunting – I needed to write a coherent, continuity-correct novel, and ensure that it was as exciting as the previous one. It was hard work, but I think I managed it.

buy on Amazon 
The third, Bring It Close was easier as it centred around that dastardly pirate Blackbeard, so my basic plot was dictated by the events of history. Ripples In the Sand was the fourth, and the fifth, On the Account, introduced a new character for me to fall for, Maha'dun. As my Jesamiah says, ‘He is the most irritating, annoying, confusing, inconsistent, loyal, courageous idiot I know.’ We (Jesamiah and me, and hopefully, more than a few fans) love him because he is all those things. And he has no idea what a box is, or what a box is for, apart from storing clothes and stuff in.

on Amazon
Now I am working on the sixth, Gallows Wake. Well, I use the term ‘working on’ somewhat loosely. ‘Thinking about’ is probably more accurate. No spoilers, but Jesamiah will be in trouble again, this time with a few old enemies and the British Royal Navy. How Maha'dun appears in it you will have to wait to find out, after all, Jesamiah believes that his friend was shot dead at the end of On the Account... (and buried in the wooden box of a coffin)

But I am finding getting beyond the first ten chapters of Gallows Wake is becoming a toughie. I have a rough plan, a sort of nautical chart with the starting point marked on it along with the eventual destination and various places during the voyage to drop anchor, but that clichéd ‘think outside the box’ business is bugging me.

 ‘Thinking outside the box’ is often given as a tip to help struggling writers. It means to approach a plot, an idea, that next novel, in an innovative manner. To think of what is going to happen to your characters in a way you would not have thought of before. So it means ‘think of clichéd situations in a way that is no longer clichéd.’ Or so I am told.

And there’s the rub. I think up my rough idea then I ‘chat’ to Jesamiah as I write and the other ideas just come. From where, I know not. I’m convinced that he whispers them to me. (I am not alone, most writers know for a fact that their characters exist as real people in an alternative dimension.) My problem is, Jesamiah has gone off and fallen asleep somewhere. Probably in or under a completely different box that was once brimfull of bottles of rum (now empty)...

When I am writing I don’t think inside the box, I don’t think outside of the box. Actually, I haven't got a box, I don’t know where a darn box is, or even whether I actually want a box. But maybe I should have a box? So am I thinking inside the box or outside the box about the need to get/have a box?

I need my pirate to stop messing about and get back here to start some work with me, so what I really need is not a box but a bottle of rum to lure him in…

Now there’s a novelty – thinking outside the bottle

Novella - how Jesamiah became a pirate

Images via Pixabay Graphics and www.avalongraphics.org 

originally posted on Heidi's Wanderings  April 2018

1 comment:

  1. Love the box comment. I have always loved a doctor who says "I think I'll take a month off and write a book." I am so tempted to say "I think I'll take a month off and perform some operations." I don't. YET!


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