The Whole Thing Just Gelled!

Today, I finally realised that this latest story has finally gelled.

Gelled? I’ve been working on this book for months. I’ve been writing it for the last few weeks. How on earth can it have taken so long for the story to have formed itself in my mind?

It’s a curious thing, writing. Some books materialise and are ready, almost fully formed. They flow superbly as soon as the author puts fingers to keys or pen to paper. It’s like going for a walk on a nice gentle slope, no effort needed.

Others take longer. They need a bit more effort, and just will not form sentences on the page as you write. It’s like going for a walk dragging a ball and chain that keep snagging on rocks. Every second sentence needs careful thinking, adding little tweaks to a character’s back story, adding something about his/her personality, motivation, or something else. There’s always just a tiny piece of research that is needed to flesh things out that I haven’t quite got … 

With this, the 45th or 46th novel I have written, it has been harder. Why? Nothing dramatic, it’s just the fact that the book is a the first in a new diversion for me. It’s a different period, a different location, and a whole new cast of characters, and these all present issues for an author. Especially the characters. They all need consideration.

Characters are what drives a story. It’s the reader’s engagement with the characters that sets the scene, that gives the reader the incentive to invest time in a plot. But it’s not just the reader: if a writer doesn’t feel engaged, the story will come across as wooden and dull. The writer has to portray each person involved with precision and sympathy. If they aren’t believable, their motives and drivers coherent and understandable, the book will fail. That is why my plots aren’t worked out in detail before writing: if an author has the plot worked out to the nth degree, all too often he or she will twist a character to fit the plot. Better by far to write and see how characters respond to problems by allowing them to experience the issues, and then allow them to react in keeping with their natures. 

But the characters do get in the way of a new book, believe it or not. Some of the new folks are sitting back like actors at a first reading, while others are clamouring for attention at the most inopportune moments.

So the writer, like me, who is sitting there to try to forge a working manuscript, is like a ringmaster, sternly telling some to go away and wait a minute, while telling others to “get a grip, the spot lights are on you now.”

But these are all problems up until the moment when the story gells.

Because even the harder books to begin, like this one, suddenly reach a moment when everything snaps together. It is that dramatic. There’s a click, and suddenly the overall atmosphere of the book, the people inhabiting it, and the main plotline, all come together at last. From that moment my typing increases rapidly from some 2,500 words a day to 5-7,000. Writing at that stage is a breeze. 

In my mind the characters have resolved into leading characters, those who will sit more in the background, those who will drive the story’s different themes, those who will give out snippets and clues, those who will suffer in some way. And no, I don’t know who will suffer each of these. The detail will come as I’m writing. I have characters who want to find resolution, and my job is to keep it from them and make them suffer.

I’m enjoying this!

So, if you’re trying to write something and you just cannot, don’t panic. Delve a little deeper into your characters. Try to figure out what the main characters want, and then deprive them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s love and affection, money, sex, power, or any of the other main drivers for human beings. Just find out what your characters want, and take it away. You’ll soon find out what your book is when they begin to react.

14 Responses to “The Whole Thing Just Gelled!”
  1. I really enjoyed the insights into your writing process, Michael. I am rereading all your books, plus a recent book, “Pilgrim’s War”. I originally read most of the Templar series as published, however, reading them in order like this has made me two things, the first that you have always had a brilliant way of portraying both your heroes and villains in a vivid, vibrant way, and that you, unlike many writers, you have improved this skill and deepened it over the years. Unsurprisingly many authors bring out a brilliant first novel, often taking ages to write it, but publishers want follow up books within a year and the quality falls. Fortunately you improve like a fine wine. Can’t wait to get my grubby little hand on the book discussed here. Thanks for all the fun, enjoyment and learning that I have gained over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Clare – thanks so much for such a kind comment. You’re quite right about publishing today – it’s a meat grinder, with the poor author struggling to fulfil the contracts for two books a year, but at least it’s better than filling holes in the road (even if not as lucrative!). Would you mind if I quoted your comments in my webpages and elsewhere? Reviews on Goodreads and Amazon make a huge difference to sales, and being able to quote you would really help.
      Many thanks!


  2. Lindsey Russell says:

    Rats, Suffering from the heatwave so missed this yesterday. You certainly know how to hook a reader – not just in the twists and turns and the characters in your books but in the little teases in posts like this. Now I’m hooked on the anticipation of a new book, new period, new cast of characters. And then there is the subtle advice – not to over do what amount of research ends up in the book to form a character’s backstory. A stage I’m at right now – art fraud – it would be so easy to get carried away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Art fraud? That would be a real problem for me. I’d get too hooked on it. Just now I’m looking into firearms, which is a bit of a minefield … still, it all keeps us interested, doesn’t it!


      • Lindsey Russell says:

        Sorry, still suffering from the heat here in Suffolk (though cooler than where I was in South Essex) so missed your reply again. Yes, bit of an art fiend myself so need to keep a tight rein on it – especially as it is the murders that result, not the art fraud (which is just the trigger) that must take centre stage.
        Firearms how far back? Records pre 1600 are hard to come by and earlier and earlier harder still so happy hunting :)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Now, both of you are intriguing me. I shall have to look up Lindsey on Amazon. Art fraud sounds cool as a theme for a novel.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lindsey Russell says:

    Michael, apologies for replying to Clare here.

    Clare I’m not on Amazon – yet. And the art fraud is what i hope will be book two of a series – still have book one to knock into shape.


  4. Jack Eason says:

    Characters are merciless beasts Michael, especially ones created by you. They get under your skin, They won’t even let you sleep the night through once they take control… ;)


  5. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from Michael ;)


  6. Great post. It is interesting process writing and you’re right sometimes something just snaps into place. I had this recently with my WIP the ending to the second book in my series The Curse of Time just came to me. It was quite an unexpected revelation but a good one!


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