2 About My Writing

I’m a pantser, not a plotter. A pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants and doesn’t plan out their story before plunging in. I don’t use coloured stickers, highlighter pens or a whiteboard, but I start off with two things: a basic idea and a character. For me the way into the story is through the narrative voice. This is probably working to my strengths – I know I’m good at character voices and I know I’m much less good at working out a plot.

For Half Bad the basic idea I started with was a world of two types of witches living secretly among ordinary people in the present day. Each side would have limited contact with the other so if I was Fairborn Witch all I’d hear is that my side are the heroes and the Blood witches are the villains. The character was, of course, Nathan; the hero who would be stuck between the two sides, with a mother who’s a Fairborn and a father who’s the most evil of the Bloods. The themes would involve war, disinformation and finding which side a person chooses to belong. With these basic ideas, but without a plot, I can jump into the world and explore. I put myself in the hero’s head and try to find his voice, play around with it and see where it leads.

For The Smoke Thieves I started with the idea of father-and-son demon hunters. I had several attempts at writing different scenes, none of which worked, but I still liked the idea of the hunters. I went back to the beginning and thought, OK, so what to demon hunters do? They hunt demons, right. And why do they hunt them? To save a community seemed a cliché but to make money sounded like fun, especially if it was illegal to hunt them. Now I was getting somewhere, and I started to write what turned out to be the opening chapter of The Smoke Thieves where Tash is making a trap for the demon. Of course, I didn’t have a plot but I did have the way into my new world and so I invented more characters and realised that there had to be something special about the demon smoke that Tash collects and that would lead in a much bigger adventure.

In The Smoke Thieves I write from five different character points of view, each one with their own storyline, so I had to do more planning than I’d done before in order to balance the individual stories and to ensure they met at the right point. It was probably the most technically challenging writing I’ve ever done and I’m incredibly proud of it, but it almost broke me!

Inventing characters is my favourite part of writing. I love working out what drives a person and particularly how they think and speak. I think it’s a form of acting, as I have to put myself into the shoes of the character, and when I’m in character writing from their point of view is easy. Jumping from one character to another as I had to do for The Smoke Thieves can be tricky but when writing a trilogy, it becomes easier as I’m living with the characters for so long. I love it when my characters do something that surprises me, as I feel they are alive and living their life through me. If I ever get bored with what they’re doing I know I’ve got a problem as the reader will be bored too.

It’s a huge relief when I’ve completed a first draft. Now I know what the plot is (hurrah!) and so I can delve deeper and have fun with the story.

Talking of delving deeper… in the second book of The Smoke Thieves trilogy I had to go down into the demon world itself. I had to work out what this place was like, and I wanted to push the boundaries and make it different to anything anyone had experienced before. There were so many questions to answer. What were the stone tunnels like? Who made them? How? Could stone move? And questions about the demons themselves. What did demons look like? What motivates a demon? And the biggest question of all – what do demons do all day?

I love trying to work out what people would do but thinking how demons spend their time was something completely new to me.

My biggest writing challenges have been in The Smoke Thieves as I had to intersect the storylines and motives of five characters, along with their various locations. I didn’t use coloured pens, but I did produce a timeline and work out by the day what was happening and where. Could Ambrose ride a horse fast enough to get to the right place at the right time? Yes, but then I would I have to speed Edyon up or slow Catherine down somehow. And then I’d have to change something Tash was doing. There were times when I just needed to lie down in a dark room.

Over time, and probably because of my experience in writing The Smoke Thieves, I’m becoming less of a pantser. I’m currently planning out a new novel and so far, I’m enjoying the process. I’m not using any coloured pens and my plan is fairly minimal, but it is a plan. However, I’m itching to get stuck into the storytelling and desperate to find my hero’s voice. I’ll be interested to see how closely the story sticks to the plan, or if something completely different emerges by the end.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This