On Novel: My Writing Process with Elaine Dodge

I love reading about another author’s writing process. Not only does it make me feel sane (because sometimes there are some weird things I do while writing) but I also gain useful tips that help in how I approach some of my writing projects. On Novel: My Writing Process is a writing tips series I’m going to be running throughout August, September and October with guest posts from authors sharing their experience. If you’re a novice the series will definitely benefit you. So without further introduction, here’s the first guest post from Elaine Dodge.

 

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On Novel: My Writing Process

Author Elaine Dodge

 

Rabbit trails. I would have to say rabbit trails – if I was asked where I find my ideas. Inspiration is everywhere. Pay curious attention, do good research and everything can lead to a great story idea. That’s not to say though that the research you do today will have any bearing on the story you’re currently writing. But, file it away, make a brief note on it and let it brew.

When asked about my actual writing process, I tend to laugh as I don’t really think about it. But having been asked to think about it here, I realised I write short stories and novels in completely different ways.

I’m currently part of a short story challenge. Perhaps it’s the fact I’m a content creator by profession, where word counts are essential and not up for debate, that I love the constraints of the challenge. Others rail against the prompt, the word count and the deadline. I have no idea why. Where’s the challenge if there are no constraints?

I approach these tales the same way as I do my ‘Running the Bathwater Stories’. These are a series of short stories which I write under one strict, self-imposed rule. After turning on the taps, I must sit down at the laptop, with no story idea in my head, and start writing immediately. I must complete a tale by the time the bath is ready. My bath does admittedly run rather slowly. It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to reach an acceptable depth. I can edit, but not change the actual story, any time after that.

When I write for the short story challenge I basically do the same thing. Although, to be honest, in this case, I don’t start writing till I have the idea. But that idea, based on the prompt, is usually as simple as ‘blinding sunshine’. The prompt in that case being, ‘Coming Undone’. Then, I sit down and start writing. I seem to instinctively write short stories in the first person. I’m working on that.

The only tale in this short story challenge I didn’t do that with was one entitled ‘A White Lie’. As it was based on Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, I wanted to make sure I had all my facts right first. It was fascinating.

Novels, however, are a different herd of elephants, although I often approach the first chapter in a similar way. A thought, the spark of inspiration and then the ‘let’s see where this leads’ and off I go. Occasionally, these can begin as Running the Bathwater Stories, but if I like the ideas that start to flow once the writing begins, I may find I have a whole novel sprouting in my head. Or at least the possibility of one. So, I keep going. When I’ve finished the first, or in some cases the first three chapters, and I’m convinced this may be something worth pursuing, I stop and go back to the beginning.
I write a list of all the characters I’ve thought of so far, doing character sheets for all the important ones.
I open an Excel spreadsheet and begin to plot the book. I try to figure out the ending as soon as I can. I didn’t do that with my second novel, ‘The Device Hunter’, and it threw me off kilter for about a year. I had to rewrite the entire second half of the book. So now, I have a hard and fast rule; Know thy ending first.
Then I begin the research. I end up with thick files full of facts, useful in ways I may not have originally intended.
Once I have enough to work with though, I carry on writing the book, doing whatever extra research is needed along the way.

For both short stories and novels, I try to apply other rules to myself:
Every word counts. Only use as many as necessary. No fluffing around.
Stop using so many commas. A failing of mine.
The last line must be memorable and leave people thirsty.
The first line must be a goodie, hook the reader in. Can it carry more weight, show location and character? Can it hint at theme? Can it give a taste of the ending of the whole book without giving the ending away? Can you use the first two lines as a double whammy?

The first lines of that ‘Coming Undone’ short story…

He seriously missed mirrors. And occasionally, Carly Simon.

 

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AUTHOR BIO

I was born in Zambia and went on a round the world cruise with my family when I was four years’ old. We moved to Zimbabwe where I grew up and set on my own round the world adventure a few years after I left art college. I’ve been in South Africa for the last thirteen years and although I’ve travelled haven’t managed to get more than two countries in at one time.

At college, I trained as a designer and after a few years segued into advertising. When I came ‘down south’, I moved into television production. I had always wanted to ‘make movies’, but that didn’t seem to be a door that would open for me. Writing TV proposals for international broadcasters however, did open a door. One I hadn’t realised I’d been camping outside of all my life – writing fiction.

I decided I needed to devote myself to writing. In order to do that I am now a freelance website creator and copywriter. The theory being that working from home, and for myself, will allow me to plan my days so that I have more time to write my books.

 

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Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Elaine-Dodge/e/B00H2EK45S/

Website: www.elainedodge.weebly.com

Running the Bathwater Stories: http://elainedodge.weebly.com/runningthebathwaterstories

Short Story Challenge: http://elainedodge.weebly.com/12-short-stories-in-12-months

 

The Secret to Chemistry

leo-claire__oPtHow can two people dislike each other so much, that those around them say, they don’t get along, AND still have mad chemistry onscreen?

As a romance writer I’m obsessed (okay maybe it’s just me) with getting this on paper. In a bid to study this, I’ve also watched a lot of movies to see how directors and actors have conveyed chemistry to the audience. And as I found myself one weekend dusting off, what I consider to be a classic, Buz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo & Juliet, I couldn’t help thinking of the rumors that the main characters ignored each other on set.

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In the case of my all time favorite remake of Romeo & Juliet, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was rumored to not get along. As in these two really wasn’t impressed by the other. Claire though the younger of the two, was a very serious teenager and actress who found Leo to be ‘irritatingly immature’. Off camera they ignored each other, she’d be in her little corner and he in his.

It baffled my mind. I’d watch the movie, these two great actors at the beginning of their adult careers, and wonder how in the world could they not like each other? Were they really that good? Did they turn all the dislike into such fiery performances that we’d caught on to something, yet didn’t know what that something was?

Or like so many times in life, you find yourself budding heads with someone whose outlook on life, personality etc. you really didn’t like, but your hormones didn’t seem to want to agree with you.

Could this be the case? This obsessive fan asked *laughs* Because I love them both. They might not have been that impressed by the other (something I think they’ve gotten over by now), but I was impressed by their onscreen chemistry.

As an observer of people, stuff like this was gold to me. I analyzed the movie because I wanted to know the ‘secret’ so I could put it into my writing. So I could create a scorching romantic story that left you breathless.

In romance novels, this element’s integral, therefore the main characters need to really, really like each other. My question revolved around, how do I convey this to the reader? There’s no screen, no Des’Ree to sing ‘Kissing You’, no mood-lighting, no submerged water scenes that made clothes cling like a second skin. Unlike the screen, I only have the written word.

Everywhere I’ve looked and read this seemed to be the answer:

Make your characters believable. Make them human. Make them have flaws. Then introduce them to each other. Think of the first time you met someone, what drew you to them? What made them stand out, out of everyone else that day? Could you still remember what they wore? Then focus on the emotion/tension of that moment. If it’s a second chance at love romance or friends to lovers, than there’s more to build on. But even here, you have to ‘sell’ it to your audience. Why am I rooting for them? Are they even compatible? Or likeable?

With Romeo & Juliet it was insta-like, insta-lust and insta-love. And Shakespeare sold us on the idea.

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Then Buz sold us on this again in his remake. When I watched this movie as a twelve year old in 1996 I wanted Leo and Claire’s onscreen chemistry to be real. As an adult in 2015, watching the movie again, I want to be in on their secret, I want to have the eye of the director and do the exact same thing for my characters.

Multi-Award Winning SA Author Jayne Bauling

Today I’m interviewing Jayne Bauling, who will be a Speaker at the #ROSACon2015 (for more info:http://www.romancewriters.co.za ). If you’re attending the conference, Jayne’s session on Lessons I learned from Writing Romance will be on Saturday the 26th of September. So without further introduction, here’s Jayne.

Jayne Bauling author photo

1. Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m the author of twenty-one novels and one non-fiction book, and even after so many books, I still experience moments of amazement, when it hits me all over again, that hey, I really am a writer, the career I decided on when I was about five, with no idea what being a writer actually entailed! The first seventeen of those novels were romances, published by Mills & Boon, since when I have moved on to writing YA novels, four so far. My short stories, for both adults and youth, have been published in a number of anthologies. I grew up in Johannesburg, and now live in White River, Mpumalanga, close enough to the Kruger Park to drop in for a morning and get home in time for an afternoon’s writing. I adore cats, and used to breed Siamese, and I love reading, red wine and bird-watching.

*Truly an amazing career*

2. What inspires you to write?

Everyone I meet, everywhere I go, snatches of conversation overheard, sights glimpsed, issues and events in the news: all fuel my imagination. It’s the idea of being able to share my stories with others that motivates me and stops me procrastinating … well, eventually.

3. What project are you most excited about right now?

My latest YA novel, Soccer Secrets, from Cover2Cover Books, because it has just been published, and there are plenty of events happening around its release, in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Mpumalanga. It’s the story of Zinzi, a teen who is brilliant at soccer but is hiding a terrible secret; Luyanda senses she’s in trouble, but he is finding it impossible to get her to open up to him, and he needs to do some detective work to confirm his suspicions. Cover2Cover are linking the book’s release to a great Reading for Pleasure campaign.

*That’s wonderful and sounds like a interesting story*

4. Which authors are you currently hooked on? Any recommendations.

I’ve just read The Cuckoo’s Calling by J K Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith and I’m in awe of her talent for creating fascinating characters you genuinely care about, so I can’t wait to read more of her Cormoran Strike books. I’ve also recently started reading Cat Hellisen’s fantasy fiction; she writes so gorgeously.

5. If one of your books could be made into a movie, which one? And why?

I keep changing my mind about the answer to this one, one of my romances set in the world of mountaineering, or one of my YAs, which a number of people have suggested would make really edgy movies? Let me go with Dreaming of Light (Tafelberg), because it includes the drama and danger of life in an illegal gold mine, the psychological effect of such a life on the young men and boys forced to work there, the adventure of escape, and a journey made in hope, as the cynical 18-year-old Regile gets drawn into the belief of the younger Taiba and their abusive handler’s daughter, Katekani, that a better life is possible. Then there’s Regile’s awkward but tender relationship with Katekani, so there would be something for everyone in such a movie!

*Thank you Jayne, it was great getting to know you. Conference goers have a lovely Speaker to look forward to*

 

Dreaming of light cover by Hanneke du Toit

DREAMING OF LIGHT: BOOK BLURB
“ It’s a story like smoke, I think. No one can catch it because there’s nothing there.”
In the heat and darkness underground, Regile Dlamini has stopped believing in anything much. Boys trafficked from their home countries, kept captive and con¬trolled by a man they call Papa Mavuso, forced to work in an illegal gold mine near Barberton: their lives are brutal, terrifying and frequently short.
In contrast to Regile, the young Taiba Nhaca steadfastly believes in the legend of Spike Maphosa, a zama zama who is said to have escaped the horror of life in a mine. The inhumane conditions and savage beatings cannot shake Taiba’s faith, something Regile finds disturb¬ing. Above ground, Papa Mavuso’s daughter Katekani shares Taiba’s belief that their lives can change for the better, but Regile wants nothing to do with their unrealistic dreaming.
Is Katekani right when she tells him the mine has stolen his soul? Or is it his humanity that is lost?

Links to where you can buy Soccer Secrets and Dreaming of Light:

http://www.loot.co.za/product/jayne-bauling-soccer-secrets/fsjb-3267-g550
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dreaming-Light-Jayne-Bauling/dp/0624056260
http://www.takealot.com/dreaming-of-light/PLID36453137

Trailer for Dreaming of Light:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2P_Rdpx-4Y

Jayne Bauling Writer on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jayne-Bauling-Writer/165514616870712

Follow @JayneBauling on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JayneBauling