The weather on WIP Wednesday

My current first draft WIP is set in 1816, the year without a summer, and the weather is almost another character in the book. So I figured this week I’d seek extracts from my author friends where weather becomes a plot device. Or any other natural phenomenon. If you don’t have a storm or a heat-wave, how about a volcano or a plague of locusts?

Here’s mine, from House of Thorns.

Bear walked down to the village, seeing evidence of the night’s storm on either side of him, in deeper puddles and streams, downed branches from trees, and flattened crops in the fields.

At Rose Cottage, Miss Neatham was fretting herself to flinders, though she tried not to show it. He’d seen her bite back words all morning, since he carried her downstairs and set her up in the parlour, with a book to read and strict instructions not to move. Each time he went in to ask her where to find something, or to bring her something to eat or drink, or just to check that she was following instructions, he could read the anxiety about her father on her open face. “When will you go to the village?” she did not say, but it was written clearly for him to see — a supposition she confirmed with her deep sigh of relief when he said, “The rain looks as if it is clearing. I’ll go down to the village now, Miss Neatham. I have a few things to buy, and I will check on your father.”

Miss Neatham had clearly been a provident housekeeper, for the house was fully stocked with all the staples, but they could do with some fresh bread and he’d buy more meat, too. He could not help but draw the conclusion that her financial situation took a dire turn for the worse thanks to Pelman’s intervention on his behalf.

He would have to see how the situation could be corrected. And he needed to see if Mrs Able was available for another week or so. Otherwise, Miss Neatham would go home to that horrid little hovel and put her ankle at risk by looking after the old man herself.

In the main streeet, straw had been laid on the worst mud patches, but the steep alley to Miss Neatham’s abode was scoured into deep treacherous ruts, and he kept to the sides where a few inches of relatively dry ground gave him better purchase for his boots.

The quavering voice of the old man raised in a shriek distracted him from his focus on his footing. “Help! Murder! Help!” Neatham was shouting.


An end and a new beginning

Yesterday morning, I wrote the final scene of The Realm of Silence, ending with those welcome and wonderful words ‘THE END’.

Not, of course, that the task is finished. I have a first draft, with plot threads still dangling, new ideas in the second half that need to be woven back earlier into the book, passages that make outrageous leaps and others that limp like a wounded snail — meandering, slow, and purposeless. The next task is a paper read through, and the book has been printed and is sitting waiting for me. I’ll make notes as I go this first time, but I won’t map anything.

That’s next. Story analysis. I’ll open the spreadsheet with my plot lines and all the other things I need to track, and I’ll read the book again, this time writing a brief synopsis of each scene and filling in the columns across the spreadsheet. Which plots were advanced? Which characters were involved? (And what were they called? — I have a bad habit of changing people’s names in mid-stream.) What is the hero arc for each of my protagonists, and how does it match the arc I planned when I began? If I’ve changed it, is it for the better?

Are the characters true to themselves? If not, how do I fix it? What about my secondary and background characters? Are there too many? Can I remove some, or fade them into the wallpaper? Are they real people with hints of their histories and personalities?

Once I have the storylines mapped, I can see what I’ve dropped or failed to resolve, or where an earlier hint or clue would help build tension. I go back through the draft, and use the spreadsheet as my guide to scrawl all over, giving myself instructions for the rewrite.

Which is just that. A rewrite. Scenes changed, expanded or cut. New scenes added. This is the point at which I add chapter breaks, because up until now I’ve only had scenes. Each chapter needs a lure to end on and a hook to start. I don’t much worry about length. A chapter is as long as it needs to be.

At last (and by end of January, all going to plan) I have a draft for my beta readers, and off the baby goes, out into the world, ready to face the critics. I hope.

My wonderful team of beta readers will have The Realm of Silence for  February and I’ll be back working on it, making final changes in response to their comments, in March. It will still need a copy edit and a proofread after that, but I’m aiming at publication in late April.

Meanwhile, I have created a hero’s journey and character interviews for the hero and heroine of my next book, written a plot synopsis, and begun to write. I’m going to follow the same process that finally got me going on The Realm of Silence — a first cut that is mostly dialogue, then a second pass to fill in the rest of story and give me a first draft. I’m aiming at 60,000 words for House of Thorns, which is for a Marriage of Inconvenience line for Scarsdale Publishing. It’s due to them on 1 March, so the first draft needs to be done by 10 February. With 5,000 words on the page so far, I’d better get writing.


Getting to know your character on WIP Wednesday

As I near the end of the first draft of The Realm of Silence, I’m well into planning for the next book, House of Thorns. For me, the first step is usually a scene, and the scene that sparked this story came to me years ago. A woman in her early twenties, on a rickety ladder reaching for an early rose blooming on the side of a house. A late snow is beginning to fall, and below in the garden a large and angry man shouts at this intrusion, startling the woman so that she falls.

I have most of the rest of the plot now, but I’m working on character, and this week I’m inviting you other authors to share with me about one of your characters. I find out a lot about my characters before I start writing. I answer character questionnaires. I give them backstories and birthdays and hobbies. I interview them. I explore their greatest longings and their deepest wounds. I find out more when I start to write, but I’m not at that stage yet in House of Thorns.

Here’s some of what I know about Hugh Gavenor, the large shouting man, who is known as Bear.

Bear has always been big for his age. As a small child, he had a sister eleven months older, who was dainty, very clever, charming, and the apple of their parents’ eyes. She, it was, who gave Bear the nickname that has stuck to him throughout his life. His parents thought it was cute, because he was large, clumsy, and slow at his lessons (he has mild dyslexia).

The family were minor gentry: effectively farmers, but with pretensions.

When Bear was ten, his mother and sister died of an infection he brought home from the nearby village. Afterwards, his father sent him to school and pretty much became a recluse. He neglected the estate, and when he died the property sold for enough to buy Bear his colours. Bear served in the army until after Waterloo.

From early in his school career, Bear displayed a talent for trading, buying things other people didn’t want, fixing them, and selling them for a profit. This is now how he makes his living. He buys broken-down estates, does them up, and sells them to mill-owners and other newly rich so they can make believe they have moved up the classes. Bear is successful and rich, and always waiting for people to discover that he is still the large, clumsy, slow boy who was mocked at home and thrashed at school because of his mistakes in reading.

In particular, he is nervous of women, particularly clever or beautiful women, and even more if they are daintily built, as his mother and sister had been.

Naturally, my heroine is a pocket-sized Venus and as smart as can be.

Watch for a marriage of inconvenience that suits neither of them. Or so they think.

Your turn. How do you get to know your characters, and what do you know about them? An excerpt is fine, or a snippet of an interview, or just a bit of exposition.