This week I’m embarking on a new novel, and I’m going back to my roots. Yes, it’s a crime novel.
I’ve had a few people ask me how I actually get started with a book. The simple answer is, I don’t know. The ideas begin when I have a basic concept occur to. Sometimes that can come from getting a contract and having to flesh out a sketch of a story, and then fresh themes percolate through my mind over succeeding weeks as I finish off one book and edit another. When that book is set aside, the new novel is often already outlined in my mind.
Sometimes, of course, it isn’t that easy. With this current book, for example, although I know the locations for the book, I know that there is conflict around two leading characters, and I do know who the body belongs to, there is still a lot to be thought through logically.
In the past I have worked things out by making a basic flow chart. I don’t recommend this for new authors, though. As Stephen King has pointed out, it’s better for the author to learn about his/her characters while writing, rather than having a rigid plot and then making the characters turn somersaults to try to fit in with it. I like to think that my books grow organically while I’m writing, and that means that the characters are developing all the way through the story. They are thrown into all sorts of difficulty while I’m writing, and I never really know what is likely to happen to them in detail. It’s the later stages when they can be finessed and the plot tightened.
Very often my process will start with one simple thought. A boy dead on the moors; a skull washing from a hedge; a man ordered to commit murder, and then finds the victim ready prepared! From these, I start to develop characters, motives, scenes and locations.
Yes, a basic outline can be useful. I sometimes write them out with some detail. However that does not mean that I’ll stick rigidly to the outline. Usually by the time I’m halfway through I can rip up the outline and continue. The characters have started to take over by then, and the story is flowing serenely to a logical end.
At least, that’s my hope!
I’ve had a busy last week. Morris dancing at Castle Drogo on Sunday 18th, dancing again at Exeter Quay for the Dragon Boat Racing on 25th, and a number of different activities in between. I’m looking forward to a Booker discussion evening at Yeovil on 6th October, then I’m helping the Detection Club to launch a collection of short stories to celebrate Peter Lovesey’s birthday, which will be great fun, on November 10th. For news of these events and others, please register for my regular newsletters. You can find the link at my site at http://www.michaeljecks.co.uk.
In my spare time, I’m spending more and more time painting. I had a good commission a month ago, which was a painting of our village, and since then I’ve been working on landscapes more. Some work, some don’t, but generally it’s good relaxation and I’m enjoying it enormously.
And don’t forget, if you want to know more about my work, you can follow my videos at writerlywitterings on YouTube, follow me on Twitter and Instagram, where I’m called @MichaelJecks, and also follow my Facebook page at Facebook.com/Michael.Jecks.author.