Wednesday, 28 May 2014
PART TWO of my Recipe For Writing a Serial
Different writers approach the beginning of their work in different ways. I know very few who write to a perfect formula. A good place to start is: what would you do if....? My Woman's Weekly serial, Finders Keepers had centred around a question I'd asked myself a million times. What would I do if.... I found a stash of money, buried. Now, knowing me, I'd be so terrified of the consequences of keeping it, I would give it in just to avoid all the anxiety of benefitting from ill gotten gains. But I wondered what if, a previously upstanding member of the community, my scientist heroine Erica had a very pressing need for some cash at just the time she discovered some buried money. I then worked this through with my heroine, in exactly the way I think I would myself if the same situation arose in real life. My heroine's daughter had been dumped by her husband who had been managing his business badly and not paying their mortgage. That was a good start, but I wanted to heap more pain on my heroine, I wanted to give her motivation to do something totally out of character - that was, to be dishonest. I made her daughter very pregnant (ie near to her time) then I gave her pre-eclampsia so she was rushed into hospital in a terrible state and couldn't do anything about the impending threat to her house. My heroine mother is a total giver, she loves her daughter to bits and always wants to make the world right for her. Given this sort of scenario, I justified her position in eventually stealing the money. But, I had just read Therese Raquin. Zola's fabulous study of guilt is a tale in which two people who commit a crime are practically driven insane by their joint guilt. They are also torn apart by it when their original plan in committing the crime was to allow them to spend their lives together. I was able to play out a little bit of the heavy consequences of guilt in my serial. Thinking of my next one, I'm going to try and throw out a few of the what would you do if....? scenarios to see if anything sparks. This part of the creative process I find incredibly difficult. It's alchemy isn't it? It's creating something out of nothing. So, here goes. What would you do if the one person who had ruined your life by their deception or evil disappeared - and then came back? Maybe they falsely accused your mother or father and as a result your parent, the one person who cared for you was imprisoned or ruined. Hmmm, okay, not a bad start. But it needs ratchetting up. So, what if you were very lowly in life and the person who had done you wrong was very high up the pecking order, pretty much untouchable in fact? Recent cases in the press about rich and famous people who have done bad things to powerless people resonate here. How would you bring them down and get your revenge? Now THIS is looking more like a story. The reason that is the case is that the idea now contains a solid element of conflict and conflict as any author knows is the lifeblood of stories from Romeo and Juliet, to Atonement, to Cinderella, to Sleeping Beauty. Haven't they just made a film about Maleficent the evil fairy, you see, those conflicts run and run. That idea also ticks the odd box from my earlier Recipe post which concentrated on character rather than plot. In this plot idea, the main character is someone who has suffered misfortune through no fault of their own. We already feel sorry for them and we want them to triumph so, already our story has a journey and what are stories, if they are not journeys from a beginning, through conflict to a satisfactory resolution or end? Finally, as ratchetting up helps one build a story, lets tighten the plot a bit by saying that the revenge has to be had within a given timeframe. Maybe our rich/powerful/influential baddie is leaving the country (or the planet if this is a sci fi story) and going away somewhere else where they might be untouchable. Maybe they are ill and dying and our hero/heroine needs to elicit revenge before the baddie dies. Maybe our baddie who is rich and powerful is about to become even more rich and powerful by taking over a company, or becoming Prime Minister/President or .... whatever. Now we have a clear goal (see my earlier Recipe post) and we have a tight time frame so we have built tension into the plot. At last a story is beginning to emerge. I now have an idea of my characters and my plot. I know how the story is going to end. The revenge will be had - it is the three episodes in the middle I haven't worked out, but at least some of the ingredients for my recipe are now obvious and I even have a setting (I fancy ancient Britain as it is an unusual setting and I have done a bit of research). I also have a more specific setting because it is near where I live - the River Thames which has fascinated me for years. The river has been settled since prehistoric times and I recently went mudlarking on the Thames, where history is all around. You can literally pick it up, hold it in your hands and take a piece home. Finally, finally, my serial is taking shape..... It's got a long way yet but I may shortly put pen to paper. Finally, many thanks to my wonderful daughter for taking the snap of me that appears in this article in the latest Writers' Forum. I'm there with fellow serial writers Jennie Bohnet and Wendy Clarke with more tips about the craft of writing serials, and a plug from me for the Woman's Weekly fiction workshops which if you can get there are great fun.