Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Journey to Publication via the New Writers' Scheme

Today we welcome Janice Preston, sharing her success and a few words of wisdom.

The most important decision I ever made was to join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2012. My submission that first year was easy – it was already written. I had submitted my second ever effort at a Regency to Mills and Boon in August 2011. I was thrilled to get a speedy response; not so thrilled that it was a ‘no’… BUT… they liked my ‘voice’.  I just hadn’t made the best use of my story (too much external conflict, not enough internal). Where to go from there? Rather than rewrite that rejected novel, I began what will be my debut novel, Mary and the Marquis. And promptly got stuck a quarter of the way in (saggy middle anyone?). I needed help. Enter the RNA. I decided to submit my rejected novel to the NWS and to use the feedback to help me to complete Mary and the Marquis.

The report was sooo helpful. I didn’t allow the negative comments (and there were plenty!) to weigh me down. But progress on M&theM was still more stop than go. At the Conference that summer, I pitched it to Linda Fildew of M&B. She was encouraging; gave me some tips; asked me to send her the completed transcript. It was the perfect incentive to rush on and complete it. Wasn’t it?

It was HARD! I am slow. ‘Real life’ got in the way. My confidence in my writing soared and dipped like a swallow in flight. I almost didn’t finish in time to submit to the NWS 2013 but, re-energised by the 2013 Conference, I finally submitted in early August.

The assessment was fantastic! In the Reader’s opinion the manuscript was almost ready to submit to M&B.
Yes, there were issues but nothing I couldn’t put right. I discovered later that my Reader was the lovely Linda Hooper, who writes Historicals as Sarah Mallory for M&B. Melanie Hilton (who also writes Historicals for M&B as Louise Allen) offered to speak to her editor (Linda Fildew!)about me once I had completed any alterations. I know how lucky I was to bypass that dreaded slush pile.

I got ‘The Call’ from Linda on November 7th, 2013, offering me a two book contract. I was going to be published!

If you are on the NWS – catapulting between hope and despair, as most of us do – here are some things I have learned:

·         Be aware of your ability to accept criticism. It’s easy to react emotionally and become defensive. Criticism of your work is not an attack on you personally!
·         Don’t concentrate solely on the negative points, celebrate the positive comments too. You deserve it. It’s tough to write a book. You are already a success.
·         Differentiate between the comments on your technique and those that seem to relate more to your Reader’s personal opinion. Still consider those ‘subjective’ points, but focus on the rest.
·         The assessment is one person’s opinion. Not everyone will ‘get’ your writing.
·         Keep going. You are learning and improving all the time. You will never stop learning and improving, ask any multi-published author.

Thank you for joining us, Janice. I’m sure your experience will be an inspiration to many members of the New Writers’ Scheme.

This blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman.
If you would like to write something for the RNA blog please contact us on:elaineeverest@aol.com

Friday, July 18, 2014

Vignettes Post RNA Conference

As far as romantic writers were concerned the weekend of 11th July meant that all roads led to Telford, Shropshire for the 2014 Romantic Novelists Associations' Conference. A good time was guaranteed for all. Below are memories from those who took part. Speakers, organisers, first timers, old timers and the wonderful authors who represented the RNA at the Blist's Hill Victorian Town, Ironbride Gorge Museum.
Five ladies shared a taxi from Stafford Station to the Harper Adams campus last Friday afternoon in weather much improved from that which they’d left behind in the capital. Lovely to be in the country surrounded by so much green and, with the wind blowing in the right direction, you would never have known you were in close proximity to cows and pigs.
It’s a lovely campus, modern and peaceful – except for the happy chatter in the early hours from a number of kitchen parties, a recognised activity for any RNA overnight event – and in its own way that was peaceful too. A confirmation that all was well in the world of the romantic novelist.
Although delegates had to negotiate three separate venues - accommodation, dining room and lecture halls - the distance between them wasn’t so great as to lower the spirits. Oh, and the chairs were comfortable. Worth a mention, you ask? If you have, as I am sure you have, sat in on talks where you were so busy shifting from one cheek to the other that it was difficult to concentrate on what the speaker was saying…yes, definitely worth a mention.
For me the hub of the whole venue was the Weston Building where Jan and Roger could be found much of the time reassuring and directing, particular at first before I’d had time to acclimatise and take stock of my surrounding. That’s not the kind of stock they had on campus, though I understand there were piglets and I might have been tempted to take one of them.
Come the evening of the Gala Dinner I even managed, to walk from my room to the dining room in High Heels. Okay, this may not seem such a great feat for some of you but for me high-heeled shoes are something I wear only for decoration. They are certainly not meant for walking in!
There was little time to spare in a very packed few days but we did manage a few minutes here and there sitting in the sunshine in between events. A far cry from our usual environment and, in spite of all the activity, an air of peace.
Natalie Kleinman

'Drinks Party sponsored by Independent Publishing at Amazon' and Darren Hardy is the UK Manager for Kindle Direct Publishing

Darren Hardy (UK Manager for Kindle Direct Publishing) and guests

Room with a view
Four of us travelled to Telford together and after an eventful journey, which included us having to change trains because a bird had flown into ours and broken the windscreen. We picked up our keys from the Aspire Building and, being travel weary, we didn’t listen to the directions we were given, so out came the maps. Being highly intelligent people, we then got very confused over the room numbers on the brown envelopes we were given. Our flat keys were inside and the room numbers began with SC. However, the wall plaques inside the buildings began with RC, luckily someone, another kind writer, came to our aid.

We soon settled into our apartments, which were compact but complete with wardrobes and desks. The en suite bathroom had a shower and I certainly became a contortionist to keep the taps on, to fill the sink while brushing my hair.

The kitchen, that serviced eight flats, had an endless supply of tea, coffee and hot chocolate as well as natural teas. It was a lovely size with two large fridges, ours soon filled up with wine for our after dinner drinks.
As we made our way back to our rooms, from the gala dinner, it was clear that nearly every block we passed were having at least one kitchen party, the laughter and cheers ringing in the darkness of the night. A good time was clearly had by all.
Elaine Roberts

Industry appointments
I’m in awe of Jan Jones! However did she managed to coordinate the industry appointments as well as organise such fabulous conferences for so many years?

When Jenny Barden called on RNA committee members to help out this year I tentatively raised my hand. What could I do? Perhaps she required someone to wash up or finish up the dregs of wine after Gala night? I could be a food taster – any excuse to stop the diet for a week or so! I looked at the suggested list and ticked the box for industry appointment coordinator. Hey, I’d attended conferences in the past and knew it wouldn’t take much to send a quick email to a delegate and tell them the time of their appointment – I was wrong.

When the information pack arrived from Jan my tummy did a flip. This looked pretty serious to me. So many appointments and look at the list of illustrious industry people who had offered their time. Me? I had to liaise with all sides and actually speak to these important people – well, email, but it’s the same as I’d still have to keep an eye on what I said and not make silly jokes, or call them by the wrong name.

On the morning the conference packs hit hundreds of doormats my email inbox exploded with incoming messages. I needed a system. I put on my office manager head – it had lived under a dust cover for the past seventeen years whilst I pretended to be a writer (someone is sure to catch me out one day) and devised a fool proof system.

I was already having nightmares about irate authors and being drummed out of the RNA for letting them down. Thankfully it never happened. What did happen was that I spent just over a month chatting to lovely people and advising some on the right interview to attend and what to submit. I had chats with new writers who experienced meltdowns over their work and wished to cancel. I can do meltdowns with ease so was extremely sympathetic. On the other hand I can also nag so talked others into seeing it through. There was only one instance of a missing email but checking my clever system I knew that the naughty little mail had never hit earth and is still out there somewhere in cyber space.

Am I glad I took on this job? You bet! In fact I’ve already signed up with Jan to do it next year. I’ve made so many friends and actually met them, rather than just chatting on Facebook or sharing tweets. With luck I will make even more friends next year.
Elaine Everest

The panel that considered the Future for Romantic Fiction were (left to right): Katie Fforde (President, RNA), Pia Fenton (Chair, RNA), Jenny Barden (Facilitator for the panel), Richard Lee (Chair, Historical Novel Society), Nikki Logan (President, Romance Writers of Australia)

A worthwhile opportunity
Having not let anyone read much of my work; the idea of sending in a chapter to be looked over by an editor was overwhelming. To say that I was nervous and scared was an understatement.
However, the process of applying for these appointments was made incredibly easy and straightforward. Also, throughout the course of the weekend, any mention of my one2ones to any other RNA member was met with encouragement and support.
When it came to the editors, the ladies I met were incredibly friendly, helpful and offered sound, constructive comments when it came to my writing – comments which will be extremely useful to me moving forward.
If you are thinking of attending a future RNA conference, these one2one’s are an amazing chance to meet with publishers and editors. It’s a unique and very worthwhile opportunity.
Laura Parish

Like a virgin: 
At the RNA Conference for the very first time
Question:  What is the difference between a night seeing the Chippendales and a weekend at the RNA Conference in Telford?  The answer is at the end of this blog post, so keep your eyes peeled.
Amanda Ward
 enjoying her first Conference 
It’s a rare occurrence in the past twenty-four years that a chance to be virginal at something crops up.  So naturally I grab at it with both hands. As a first time member and attendee of the conference I was apprehensive and extremely nervous. As it turned out I had no need to be. I was greeted warmly by Kate Jackson, Roger Sanderson (fan moment there) and Jan Jones and after settling in to the cleanest and most comfortable room, I and my mother in law headed off towards the Weston Building.
When asked how I found the conference I immediately said “different” because there in Telford it is a completely different world from the manic life at home. Full of interesting individuals who had a great deal of knowledge to impart, many gushy fan moments meeting and shaking hands with authors I had read over and over again.  I came home buzzing, knackered and with lessons learnt.  To be myself, treat writing as a ‘job’ - and above all WRITE!
As for the answer to the above question.  It’s simple.  After a weekend with this amazingly friendly group of authors, everyone is guaranteed a happy ending!
 Amanda Ward.

Gala evening
Oh what a night!
The gala evening lived up to its usual glam and glitz, the elegantly decorated room graced by equally elegant ladies. There was the smattering of gorgeous high heels (including a particularly wonderful bejewelled, scarlet pair), but it seemed many went for flatter, though still pretty, sandals this year. Not that we had to move far – apart from to the bar – as we were served at the table. This was very welcome after a tiring, if inspiring, day of talks and one-to-ones.

During the meal, the winner of the Elizabeth Goudge Prize was announced. Janice Preston looked thrilled to be the winner of this prestigious award. Also announced was this year’s recipient of the Katie Fforde bursary, Janie Wilson.
My group of revellers was among the last to leave. We wandered back to our flat to continue the party and it was evident that others had done the same. As we passed kitchens, one above the other, they were lively with chatter and laughter. I’m reliably informed by a friend who couldn’t sleep, that some of them went on into the wee small hours!
Francesca Burgess

The winner was...
I had a total of 37 entries for the Elizabeth Goudge competition, all intriguing and so many with excellent ideas on how to transform old fairy tales into something new.  It was very hard to choose!  All entries were based on all the more usual stories except for one which was a new take on HC Anderson's "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep".  This theme obviously fired everyone's imagination which was great!
Winner - Janice Preston with "Rip Tide" (modern take on The Little Mermaid)
Runner-up - Vanessa Savage with "Hush" (modern take on Sleeping Beauty)
Runner-up - Caroline Johnson with "Ash Grey" (modern take on Cinderella)
RNA Chair, Pia Fenton

Sue Moorcroft taking a well deserved break
What a weekend!
I’m still excited about what I learnt during the amazing sessions. I loved every minute of drama, laughs, and friendship. I’m also still recovering from too much wine and not enough sleep. The food was excellent, all home grown and well worth putting up with the overbearing smell from the cattle sheds that occasionally drifted through the venue.
Whilst at the conference, I found myself very lucky to have managed to take part in not one, but three different ‘one on one’ ten minute discussions with Editors.
Each and every one of the editors were lovely, they’d all obviously taken the time to read and digest my opening chapters, along with my synopsis. The feedback that I received was not only invaluable, but crucial to the continuation of my career as an author.
Out of the three editors that I saw, two have requested a full manuscript. As you can imagine, I’m absolutely delighted.  Especially as one of these publishers would be my dream choice. I love everything about them, their attitude, ethics, business sense and most of all their beautiful covers. So, fingers crossed..!
Lynda Stacey
A big smile from Pamela Hartshorne after her talk
Walking towards the first talk I’ve ever given at an RNA conference
As I walked towards the room where I was to give the first talk I’ve ever given at an RNA conference – yes, panic! -  I felt exactly as I’d done when, as a teacher, I was about to give a whole school assembly. It wasn’t the teenagers who’d fill the hall who were a fearful thought: it was my peers - the teachers who lined the walls
Giving a talk to a room full of writers is giving a talk to your peers, and that’s scary!

PS.  I couldn’t have found myself in front of a nicer group of peers.

Liz Harris

Harlequin singles

Write from both your head and your heart. That was the message from Victoria Ounjian and Lucy Glimour, editors for Harlequin singles. In a lively session, I discovered that while Victoria and Lucy might be Margot Fonteyn and James Bond in a parallel universe, they haven’t lost their passion for publishing in this one.
After a quick run round the Harlequin imprints - Mills and Boon, Mira, Carina and Carina Ink (Y.A.) we were assured that they were looking to nurture authors who would appreciate a publishers’ expertise and wanted a global career. Copies of Not Quite Perfect by Annie Lyons lay on the front table, evidence that e-books can go to print.
Victoria and Lucy like fresh voices, great hooks and lots of P.Q.T. Do you know the acronym? I didn’t. It’s for that elusive but vital ingredient: page-turning-quality.
No books by number please, or the re-telling of current trends. Individuality matters, even niche, as long as it might be competitive in the market and has mass appeal.

Finally, Victoria and Lucy left us all with this compelling thought: If a reader has five pounds a week to spend on a book, why should it be yours?

Cathie Hartigan

 'Tea and Tales of Yesterday and Today' part of the RNA author showcase at Wellington Library, Telford

From 1940s to 2014
A time travelling author!
There were two things that tested me this year as I prepared for the RNA’s annual conference.  The first was making a 1940s district nurse’s uniform for the historical authors’ event at Blist's Hill Victorian Village in the Iron Bridge Museum and the second was putting together a talk about plotting and story structure for the conference’s main programme.

After the initial problems of finding a dress pattern of the right design, the uniform and apron took only a day for me to make. The hat was more difficult but thankfully I spotted my daughter’s old St John’s Ambulance hat so pinched that. With my old prefect badge as substitute nursing association insignia and my bag of pre-war nursing equipment and text books I was set for the day. Although I wouldn’t recommend wearing 1940s underwear including stocking, suspenders and full under slip in 23c the event was brilliant fun and attracted a great number of visitors. My second task wasn’t so straightforward.
Despite the fact that teaching is my day-job, preparing to talk about an aspect of writing to group of authors was quite another matter. Firstly, because I had the overwhelming feeling of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs and secondly because the divide between a published and yet-to-be-published author is paper thin. Who was I to teach others how to construct a page-turning story when I’m still learning myself?
However, not one to balk at a challenge and using the plot of Pride and Prejudice to illustrate the points I set about putting the 20 slide PowerPoint presentation together.

I was uncharacteristically nervous as Sunday morning ticked by but once everyone laughed at the first joke I got into my stride. At the end of the talk I received overwhelmingly positive responses from many of the 80 plus people who attended my Keep Control of Your Story.  Would I do it again? You bet ya! But I might consider more user-friendly undergarments the next time around. 
Jean Fullerton
Two dozen went to Blist's Hill
The RNA conference isn't just about seminars in lecture halls.  On Friday morning, while volunteers were making up goody bags up at Harper Adams University, two dozen historical authors went to Blist's Hill Victorian town.  In the glamorous setting of the Goods Shed, we held a "meet the author" event.  To showcase our work we brought not only our books, but also artefacts we've collected, or made, to do with our era.   There was everything from a cardboard Coliseum to printed versions of an alternate history of the United Kingdom.  The display of Georgian prints and antique fans drew a lot of interest from the public, as did the tombola with instant prizes of books, stationery and sweets.


Many of us dressed in costume appropriate to the era we write about and we took the opportunity to have a look about the town, too, which was manned by volunteers in period dress.

At lunch time, I wandered past the pub, where the policeman, who'd parked his bicycle outside, was belting out music hall tunes on the piano and spotted a sign hanging in the draper's window that reminded me of my place.  (It reads: Cast off clothing - the lower classes may call after 5 o'clock.)

Christine Burrows
(Writing as Annie Burrows)

Christine with Juliet Greenwood

Kate Johnson and Liesel Schwarz

Lizzie Lane

Annie Burrows and Freda Lightfoot

Jenny Barden

My First RNA Conference Talk
 It was a sweltering hot day when I did my talk on Love and Death in Romantic Intrigue.
Actually, the almost tropical weather turned out to be fitting for describing the main plot details of Romancing the Stone, though I wish I had glowed like Kathleen Turner, rather than just having a bright red face. As I said to the attendees, I had hoped to be more sparkling and less wilting.

I was very lucky with my audience, who were very receptive to everything I had to say, and took part with great gusto, despite the heat.  Even the more experienced writers were very receptive, and it made me realise that no matter how long we’ve been doing this, we can all learn something from other writers.
It was a really good weekend, and the icing on the cake was when I was sitting in the foyer and overheard someone behind me talking about my workshop. It was clear they had really engaged with it, so that made my weekend.
Sally Quilford

I came. I saw. I conferenced.
Hazel Gaynor
The Girl Who Came to Conference
Was I nervous? A little. Should I have been? Not at all!
As a first-timer, what did I learn from RNA 2014?
1)      Always help the person sitting beside you on the train with their luggage. It might turn out that they are going to the same conference as you and you might not realise this until you both get off the train and miss the next connection.
2)      You will meet people who are trying to get published, people who are recently published and people who have published 60 novels. There is something to learn from everyone (and Mary Nichols is an inspiration!)
3)      People are incredibly generous when it comes to giving lifts. You will never be left stranded in the middle of Shropshire.
4)      Everyone is very friendly and particularly forthcoming with wine.
5)      Even when your supply of books doesn’t arrive from your publisher, there is much fun to be had in dressing in Edwardian clothing and pottering around a Victorian town.
6)      You can find out an awful lot about someone over a pint of cider in a student union bar

7)      People WILL come along to your talk at 9am on Saturday morning. And they will be lovely and have great questions.

8)      Speaking in front of a fairly full lecture theatre is absolutely fine when you have such a wonderful co-host as Alison Baverstock.

9)      When you see people starting to make their way to dinner, go with them. There will most definitely not be any panna cotta left if you dawdle.

10)  A lecture-theatre full of (mostly) women can move very quickly when the fiction buyer for WH Smith Travel offers to give out his business card. Has anyone seen Matt Bates since?!

11)  What Janet Gover cannot do with audio visual equipment simply isn’t worth knowing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole conference – both as a speaker and as an audience-member. I met lots of writers who I’ve only known on Twitter and I met lots of lovely people who I will definitely be tweeting with in future.
Thank you RNA!
Hazel  Gaynor


What an amazing event the #RNACONF2014 has been. We'd like to thank all of you who took the time to share your experiences with us - there are far too many to name.
There were people who gave, people who shared, a meeting of old friends, a reassurance for newcomers who might have been feeling a little overawed - I'm sure that disappeared pretty quickly. As always, something for everyone. Roll on London 2015. See you there!
Elaine and Natalie

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Agent talk with Lisa Eveleigh

Today we welcome literary agent, Lisa Eveleigh to the blog. Lisa kindly gave up her weekend to attend the RNA Conference at Telford. Judging by the number of delegates applying for interviews at the conference acquiring an agent is at the top of most writers’ wish list.

1.      Please tell us something about your life as a literary agent?

No day of the week is the same.  Obviously my priority is to respond to what comes up for my clients, which can be anything from reading work in progress to editing a finished manuscript, to dealing with their publisher on their behalf over a cover, copy, promotion etc. And obviously contract negotiations for recent sales, which usually involves pretty hectic emailing and phoning.  

I make at least one submission a day, and this involves establishing whether the editor I’m approaching is available/interested in principle, then carefully crafting the submission email. But I may also have met the editor at an event or meeting and be following up on interest expressed. 

I will very occasionally have a friendly lunch with an editor but try to keep these to a minimum as with travel, they take a big chunk out of the day. I much prefer a drink after work for networking reasons. I also fairly often catch up with other agents – there is not as much rivalry as people might think, and exchanging news and views is very helpful.    

Then also, I keep up with the trade press, look at publishers’ websites, and do other forms of research.

Finally, about once a fortnight I update my website with news, and do some social media promotion for the agency, and more importantly, for my clients.  I also advise them on how to best utilise social media and pretty much anything else they ask me about.  It’s a varied life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

For many writers meeting an agent can be a dauting experience. How do you respond in these circumstances?

 I feel it would be incredibly impolite not to be as friendly, helpful and constructive as possible, and I’ll have given considerable thought to the submissions I’ve received and written a brief report. I DO realise that there is a general perception that agents are ‘gatekeepers’ and therefore magically powerful – but it was thrust on us when publishers began saying they would no longer look at un-agented work.

But authors, do bear this in mind; we aren’t magicians, and if a rejection comes in then the agent receives it first, and suffers the disappointment initially, then has the thankless task of passing it on to the disappointed author.   I have a policy of not telling authors about turn-downs on Fridays, on the basis that it will ruin their weekend, and possibly that of their entire family! 

What are you looking for when adding to your list of clients?

The worst question!  I’m afraid that the answer really is that I go totally by instinct, and I just do know something good when I see it. 

But if I strain every nerve to answer helpfully, then it’s probably something well-crafted, that is the best it can possibly be, whatever the genre. I have a weakness for comic novels; ‘weak’ in that what makes me laugh won’t necessarily make an editor laugh too, but I do continue to look for them.  A glance at my website will give authors an idea of my own preferred reading though, so there are clues there.

Can you give an example of common mistakes that authors make when submitting work for consideration?

Don’t want to be too hectoring here, but it is essential to read the agency website thoroughly and follow all guidelines there.

I’m never impressed by being addressed as ‘Dear Richard’…

A really long introductory email is a mistake too; let your writing speak for itself, and write the most salient, clearly expressed covering email that you can.

How do you relax when not working?

The usual creative leisure pursuits of the middle-aged (but not yet decrepit) - cooking, gardening, visiting National Trust properties to look at gardens… 

Would love to see more theatre, which is a passion. But I also love music and am going to the Wilderness Festival this year (Burt Bacharach headlining! Oh dear, a bit middle-aged again).  I’m also researching a biography of a 19th century socialite so spend time on that at weekends.

Twitter: @richfordbabe

Thank you so much for taking time to answer our questions, Lisa.

This blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. We are always interested in blog interviews and craft articles. Please contact us at elaineeverest@aol.com

Friday, July 11, 2014

Why Plan?

Today we are delighted to welcome Jane Jackson aka Jane Pollard

Jane Jackson has been a professional writer for over thirty years.  Crosscurrents is her twenty-eighth published novel.   She also teaches the Craft of Novel Writing. Ten of her former students are now traditionally published novelists.

Why Plan?  

There are hugely successful writers out there who never plan, claiming if they knew what was going to happen they'd get bored. Others write themselves into the story then ditch the first chapter or set it aside to mine for information later.  If this works for you, that's great. But if you've ever had a terrific great idea, started writing then hit a wall, why not try a plan?

Women writers are skilful jugglers. Many have full-time jobs and young children, others care for elderly parents, and they still make time to write. But the demands of everyday life can make it hard to remember story details, plot twists, and characters' emotional developments if you are trying to carry it all in your head.

Why plan? Because if you don't know where you're going, how can you choose the most dramatic and emotionally gripping route? How will you know when you get there? Or if an extra twist could have made the climax/resolution even more heart-stopping?  

A plan is not a prison. Think of it as a map that shows your starting point, the destination/outcome, and several major events/challenges along the route.  What a map doesn't show – and what will be revealed on the journey – is the scenery: crowded city streets or tranquil wooded valleys, spring warmth and vibrant colour or grey cloud and storm-driven waves. These discoveries will bring the world of your story to life and reflect or contrast with emotional developments in your story. 

One great advantage of having a plan – which you can adapt or alter it as often as you like - is that if a brainwave turns out to be a blind alley you can quickly backtrack to the point at which you digressed. Another even greater advantage is that if circumstances make writing impossible for several days/weeks, you needn't worry about losing ideas/momentum. As soon as you're free to write again a quick read through your plan and bios will have the story and characters clear in your mind and you'll be raring to go.

Getting your characters and plot ideas out of your head and onto screen/paper leaves mental space and energy for creating details that increase tension, authenticity and emotional depth. Your plan will also help you spot potential snags and sags and minimise the need for rewriting.

Where to begin?  On the day that's different.  Make the starting point of your story a moment of change in your main character's life, an event that forces them to take action and propels them on a journey from which they will emerge a very different person. This may be something apparently trivial: the arrival of a letter, an accident, a missed train. But like a pebble dropped into a pool, this event causes ever-widening ripples.

To know how your main character will respond to events you first need to know who she/he is.  Main characters cannot be passive, waiting for others to bail them out. They drive the story forward by making choices, taking action, and dealing with the consequences, good or bad. 

Name, age, appearance, family background and job/ profession will have influenced how they see themselves and are perceived by others. But you also need to know what emotional baggage they carry; their loves, hates, hopes, fears, and most importantly, what they want. Ask them. They will tell you. Then dig deeper. Keep asking Why? Because what they say they want, what they think they want, and what they really want but are afraid to voice because of what it might reveal or whom it might hurt, will give you greater insight into the person behind the public face and why they behave as they do. It also gives you the bullets to shoot them with.

A gripping book is driven by conflict. External situations like weather, travel disruption, bloody-minded officialdom etc may prevent the character getting where she needs to be. You can ratchet up tension by imposing time constraints – a missed train means a lost job interview, a loved one will die without an untested last-resort drug.  Whatever the main character's ambition/quest, make it matter and show the reader why.

Having decided the genre, period and setting/background, of your story you will find it really helpful to decide the theme or premise. What is it about?  What do you want it to show/prove?  Try to sum this up in a single phrase or sentence. Why? It helps keep you focused.

E.g.  Theme: The price of success.
A character born in poverty rises to prominence. But the attributes that helped them achieve – ambition, beauty, willingness to sacrifice relationships, arrogance, a sense of entitlement, reliance on drugs/alcohol to cope with pressures - also contribute to their downfall.  
Resolution? An anti-heroine starts scheming her way back, intent on revenge.
A hero having learned valuable lessons devotes his skills to an addiction charity.

While drafting your plan keep asking Why? The answers will ensures you have a solid foundation for your story.  Also ask What if?  Out of ten possibilities one will be a key that unlocks even more. Choose whichever best supports your theme or your character's arc of change.

A plan doesn't restrict creativity, it frees it. Whether you make a chart or a list, or use one of the many software planning programmes, a document that shows your chosen period, genre and story background, timeline, theme/premise and detailed biogs for your main characters makes it far easier to create situations and events that face them with moral dilemmas and force them to confront their deepest fears.  

During the relentless journey towards the crisis, include quiet moments that show the characters reaching new understanding of themselves and each other. This gives the reader a chance to catch her breath. Then continue building to the black moment when all hope seems lost, and the climax when either the ambition is achieved, or it isn't - but the lessons learned are far more valuable than the objective originally sought. Finally the resolution ties up remaining loose ends, brings the story to completion, and should leave the reader reluctant to leave but emotionally satisfied.

In case you're wondering:  I used to be a 'pantster.' But when I switched from writing for Mills & Boon to longer historical romances planning was the only way I could keep track of the story and the characters. I will shortly be starting a new book and I've already got a file of research notes, basic character biographies that I keep adding to when ideas occur, drafts of potential story arcs – haven't decided which I'll go with yet - several pages describing major turning points in the story. This isn't a plan – yet – but it will be. Meanwhile reading through the pages and playing with possibilities creates a lovely buzz of anticipation.

Happy writing.

Jane Jackson.   www.janejackson.net
'Crosscurrents'  published by Accent Press
Amazon UK: Crosscurrents
Paperback £9.99 

Thank you for joining us today, Jane

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