I’ve just realised I haven’t really blogged about how I write a book from start to finish – from the very first idea to the actual final manuscript. So using the book I’ve just finished, Ask Amy Green: Party Drama-rama (Amy 4) I’ll try to explain how I do this. It might take a couple of weeks as I’m talking details people! ‘Cos I’m that kinda gal. And ‘pologies if I come over all Amy while I’m writing this – she’s 13 and she loves twisting the ole Hiberno English to make it fun. Which is fun to write too. But more of that anon. Now first the disclaimer:
Every writer writes in a very, very different way. This is just the way I do it. And I’m certainly not suggesting it will work for everyone. It doesn’t even work for me sometimes! So take everything I say with a large sea rock of salt!
1/ The Initial Idea This is the number one question I get asked at events and in schools – ‘Where do you get your ideas?’
And it’s a very hard one to answer. If I’m talking to younger readers and writers of say under 14 I tend to tell them about my crazy, mad thought-filled mind and how it never rests and is always spewing up ideas. Like today – I was stuck at home with the kids (snowed in) and thinking about how that might feel if it happened for more than a week – how would we cope. Then – being a writer – I thought, hey, that’s an interesting one for a book. It could be a/ a comedy about a family muddling through and being resourceful and learning to work together after practically killing each other or b/ a Hunger Games type dystopian teen novel where the family really do kill each other – I’d have to throw in some sort of reality tv show then maybe or c/ a romance where 2 neighbouring families are thrown together – maybe a widow and a single mum – and they bond over show shovels. See, my mind works in mysterious ways and there is always, always something cool to write about.
Where was I? Ah yes, ideas. And the idea for Amy 4 in particular.
For me, largely the characters come first. In the case of Amy 4 I already knew all the main characters – Amy, Clover, her crazy 17 year old aunt, Mills, Amy’s best friend, Sylvie, her mum, Art, her Dad, Dave, her step dad and so on.
Before I think about plot, I tend to do a lot of work on the characters. For Amy 4 I had a new character to concentrate on, Bailey Otis. He has a small walk on part in Amy 3 but I needed to flesh him out a lot more. So I grabbed my character note book and started writing pages and pages – what I knew about him – from where he was born, to his childhood, his parents, schools, music he likes, talents, hates, likes etc etc.
Actually – REWIND – the very, very first thing I do is decide what age group I’m writing for – adult, young teen, early reader etc. Sometimes the character or story dictates what age the book will be for – if the character is 13 the readership is likely to be 10+ etc. But for the Amy Green books (Amy is 13), I knew I wanted to write for young teens – about 10/11+.
Oh and genre – for me the genre chooses me, not the other way around. I write the way I write – lots of dialogue, not too much description, fast paced story lines, characters readers can relate to but are still ‘big’ and interesting (I hope) – and I can’t change that. ‘Tis just who I am. It generally fits into the broad ‘popular fiction’ genre. More on that another day but for now . . .
Back to characters. Once I’ve got the main characters firmly in my head I think about the plot and the setting.
Plot is an interesting one. Some writers – especially crime writers apparently – start with plot. But I do have an idea of the type of thing I’d like to write about before I put pen to paper. It tends to swirl around in my head, picking up momentum and speed, before forming into anything coherent.
I knew I wanted to make Amy Green a problem solver. I also knew I wanted to give her an older side kick who could drive and had a job and some money. Clover was originally going to be 21 until my very wise friend, Liz, said that that was too grown up and younger was better. So I made her 17 instead which worked much better – thanks, Liz!
Once I decided to make Clover a journalist, and an agony aunt for teens, I found my ‘in’ to the problem solving. Basically Amy is brilliant at solving other people’s problems, but not so hot with her own problems.
So then I had my premise and my characters, and I just had to fill in the plot. Which has never been hard with the Amy books as my characters have a lot to say and live very eventful lives!
The Shoestring Club
I’ll use the new adult novel, The Shoestring Club to say a little bit more about ideas. First of all I knew I was writing an adult novel, but I wanted to make the characters younger – 20s as opposed to 30s or 40s. I wanted them to be full of hope, lively and funny – making huge mistakes and still finding out who they are. I find it a very interesting age. I missed out on a lot of my 20s on account of having a baby so young – but that’s another story.
I chose a main character – Jules – deeply flawed but very funny and likable most of the time – a real larger than life character. And her sister, Pandora, and her mad granny, Bird. At the centre of the book is a dress time sharing plan – I wanted Jules to meet and become friends with some very different women in an unusual way. So she finds a girl called Arietty in the second hand designer shop she works in (Shoestring – Pandora’s shop), and this girl falls in love with the same dress Jules wants desperately to wear at her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend’s wedding (Ed and Lainey) but can’t afford on her own, and they strike up an agreement to share the dress – and hence they become friends. Arietty is very beautiful and it’s been very interesting writing about a character who feels very much an outsider in Ireland.
Friendship and making new friends is very much at the heart of this book.
Where did the second hand clothes shop idea setting come from? I adore this second hand place in Dun Laoghaire called Stock Exchange. I buy and sell lots of stuff in there – it’s a real treasure trove. Some of my favourite wardrobe bits have been someone else’s cast offs! And I like the whole idea of going to people’s houses and checking out their clothes – which Pandora does and Jules will do in the second book – as I’m frightfully nosy. So it was the ideal job for my characters. A lot of the book is set in the shop too which is fun. As I’ve worked in shops before (mainly bookshops) I know all about tills, staff rooms, customers etc – so that bit was easy enough. And I’ve spent so much time in Stock Exchange I know how that works too! And the rest – I researched or made up.
Right, enough for one night, better get to bed now.
But basically – ideas come from everywhere – keep your eyes open and one will bite you on the nose. Now, I wonder if that family getting snowed in idea would actually work? Or a YA novel about a Lockdown in a school . . . my son’s school had a Lockdown drill recently, a new one on me, but common now in the US . . . now that’s an interesting one . . .