Thanks, Andrea, for allowing me to guest post on your blog. The craft of writing isn’t easy. I probably do more planning than most writers do. Today I want to concentrate on how I create a novel.
Creating the World of a Novel:
Writing fiction presents complications for both new and experienced writers. For me, the first occurs when developing the world of my novel. Creating a book starts with building a tension-packed world full of pitfalls, danger, and valuable aspirations in which characters take form and develop.
Before I wrote Room 1515, I designed the world in which the story takes place. This world is a near future world, no more than five years from now. The major action takes place in Washington, D.C. and Great Britain, London primarily. The details of the locations where events take place, the physical building structures and surrounding areas, have to appear real, yet subtly altered. Our society constantly changes our physical surroundings to fit the mood of its citizens. Therefore, an author must add a new hotel here and a new transit system there.
This world has a political environment that is recognizable, yet futuristic by a few years. In Room 1515's timeframe, the E.U. fears the Muslim world is on the verge of overrunning Europe, and the United States has a president who is removing all United States troops from foreign countries, leaving Europe defenseless. In addition, the top .0001 percent are manipulating the financial markets. They have the capability to bankrupt any nation in an instant.
This concept is not new. Many novels incorporate parts of this stereotype world. Military, financial, and unseen fears are natural tension builders. In addition, many see this scenario as highly plausible. The challenge is to make my story standout as unique. An author must be careful to remember the changes they made to their world's new setting.
Human nature tends to remember what we see and forget what we dreamed. Example: An author closes Lafayette Park in Chapter 3 due to a waterline break--the dream. Then five chapters later, he searches out a website picture of Lafayette Park, and writes in a character walking in the same area he closed in Chapter 3. When I design my world, I document all the changes, so my dreams become realities at the end of the novel.
Notice I set my story in Washington D.C. and London. I believe thrillers should be set where stuff really does happen--and in places readers find interesting.
The final act of creating the world of my novel is a grabber, a second dilemma. The second dilemma must have major consequences if not resolved. This dilemma must be something all sides in the conflict want to solve. Important, the sides involved must not agree on how to solve this problem. In Room 1515, the dilemma is man's ongoing destruction of the earth.
Refining the World of My Novel:
Is the world of my next novel rock solid? I've picked the timeframe. I've chosen my locations and tailor-made them to set the mood--dark, romantic, challenging, adventurous. I'm dying to parachute my characters into the fray. Not yet.
Now I decide what beliefs and histories drive my characters and hence drive the plot. Ever read novels where the bad guys have no redeeming features and the good guys are Dudley Do-Rights. The good guys always beat the bad guys, and I know for whom to cheer. The real world is not this way. The more conflicted people and events are the better my novel will be.
Example: In Room 1515, I don't have a true protagonist. I create an anti-heroine, a flawed woman pursuing the enemies of her country, but dissolution sets in when she questions the tactics of her mentors. I don't have a true antagonist. I abandon the archetypal villain for one who is sympathetic and even likable while being ruthless. Complex characters hold readers’ interest.
A question from a recent interview asks, "What makes Room 1515 unique when compared to other novels about power-brokers taking over the world." My answer is that in Room 1515 the motive of the villain is noble. He believes humanity will destroy the earth. Greed is keeping nations from tackling the problem of global warming and pollution, and there isn't time to reason with selfish idiots anymore. He'll do anything necessary to save the world.
Authors need to establish a twist that is different to make their book unique and interesting. I do this before I drop my characters into a battle they're not ready to handle.
I write thrillers, not mysteries. I've been asked, "What is the difference?" I agree good Mystery, Suspense, Thriller novels have aspects of all three. For me, mysteries lean toward the 'who-done-it?' Thrillers lean toward the 'how are they doing it, and how do we stop them?' Suspense to me is tension throughout the novel. If the problem is bad, it's going to get worse. When it does get worse, prepare for the tornado.
Now we are ready to develop characters. Good authors breathe life into their characters before dropping them into their roles in the novel. I do this because, once I drop the main and supporting characters into their new world, I lose some control. Come on now. You know it's true. Characters take on a mind of their own once you release them.
So knowing this can be a problem, I develop them beforehand. That way I know the life they've led and who they are. I do this with the protagonist, the antagonist, and one or two other supporting roles to a lesser extent. I ask myself what was their childhood like, their family life, and their self-image in their teens. Who are they now: married, single, successful, a failure, wealthy or poor? How do they feel about whom they are now? What do they believe about the world around them?
I'm not God! Nevertheless, in the spirit realm of my mind, I am God to them at this point. I will not vary their backstory once I drop them into their new world. However, once dropped, they will argue, disobey, and question me, just as I do with my God. Characters surprise their creators by going off in directions not planned. Many times, my characters are right to do so, and isn't that fun in an insane kind of way. If I've planned correctly, I know where I'm starting. I know where I'm going. I know how to get there. My characters become co-authors within the scenes they're in, adding nuances I hadn't planned.
Authors disagree about things like a character’s appearance. Readers do as well. A multi-published author friend asked me if I knew what his main character looked like. I didn't, and I'd read several of his books staring this character. "I never describe him," he said. "I'd rather the reader develop his own idea of what he looks like." This worked for him. I'm less secure. I show my characters through the eyes of others and the internal monologues of the characters themselves. To this another friend of mine replies, "Whatever works."
I wish to give credit to many of the concepts I write about here to William Bernhardt, not that he agrees with all of them. His workshops and seminars have helped me develop my craft over the past few years. I encourage writers from beginner to craftsperson to study with Bill. He’ll expand your creativity.