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Colette Caddle On Creating Story

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Colette Caddle

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I probably had three books published before I felt comfortable calling myself an author, perhaps longer. It still felt like a fluke, I was waiting for the axe to fall or to hit that famous block. Fourteen books on and I’m still here.

People think writing that first book is a challenge but I found the second a much more terrifying prospect. My first book had made it to number one so now there was some expectation that the second should follow suit. The pressure was on. My then editor was also Stephen King’s UK editor – no more name dropping, promise – and when I expressed my self-doubt she smiled and handed me a copy of his book, On Writing. I will be forever grateful to her for that because not only did I pick up some great tips, I could really identify with him. How wonderful to be able to relate to someone as prolific as Mr King!

I’ve never really planned my novels. I spend quite some time coming up with a cast and a situation or dilemma and then I simply start writing. I have some idea of what I want to do, where I want to go but I take the organic approach and just let the words tumble out. This isn’t quite as random as it seems. I have to immerse myself in the story and so I react as I write. For example, if there’s been a car crash and a man dies then it is quite easy to put myself inside the heads of the people he left behind: a grieving child, a bitter wife, a shocked mistress, a worried business partner… You get the idea.

What’s great fun is when peripheral characters, created merely to balance the main protagonist’s story, push their way into the limelight. Also, as I get to know my characters I realise they wouldn’t behave quite the way I had initially thought and I am forced to accommodate them and they develop in a completely different way than I had anticipated.

colette-caddle-AWKing likens writing to archaeology. He maintains the story is already there but it is up to the writer to dig, scrape and probe until it is revealed in all its glory. That may sound fanciful but I think it’s true. While a news story, a piece of juicy gossip or an incident on a train might spark an idea, that’s only the starting point, little more than the blurb you find on the back of a book. The mystery to the author as much as the reader is where it will lead.

As the storyline develops there are twists, turns and surprises along the way, or there should be unless the aim is to make the reader nod off. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders, every time something good happens in a character’s life, something must come along to pull the rug from beneath them and the protagonist must deal with it – or not. The latter is preferable if they are to appear real and much more enjoyable to write! We all know people who seem to sail through life, impervious of the trouble they cause, the people they hurt. Characters like that are useful because of their impact on others and while they may not change as the story progresses, the protagonist and the story may change because of them. You’ve got to love the bad guys!

While my first proof may be organic, the edit that follows is quite a different matter. That’s when I get ruthless, or try too. It’s the time to make sure that there is something happening in every chapter. It’s when I ensure there is no unnecessary repetition or contradictions and, obviously, I hopefully, correct any errors. There are always many changes to the initial chapters for when I started writing I didn’t know these people and so I must return and flesh out their personalities. It’s the reason I abandoned editing chapter by chapter a long time ago as I know from experience, pages I may have spent time and effort changing, could well end up being scrapped in the second draft.

Time and again I have found that story goes in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. In my latest book, First We Take Manhattan, the plot revolves around identical sisters who start a new business making hats. There is great excitement when out of the blue they hit the big time but then one sister goes missing and is presumed dead leaving a devastated sister and family behind. The loose plan was that the novel would revolve around the family but it didn’t pan out that way. There is another ambitious girl in the story who learned her craft at the same college but went to Manhattan in search of success. She was to be a peripheral character, someone I would use to give another view of the sisters and the mystery surrounding them. But, don’t you know it, she just pushed her way right into the story and took it by the jugular. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, I did say she was ambitious!

When I do my final proofread I want the story to make me smile, laugh and cry, preferably in the right places. I don’t want to read about characters I want to read about people and I want to care about those people. Then and only then am I happy to let go. Then it is in the hands of the reader. They will read it and their enjoyment – or not – will be coloured by their taste, mood, feelings, imagination and their own life-experiences. A most daunting thought but, you know what? It’s quite a tantalising one too.

(c) Colette Caddle

About First We Take Manhattan

Identical twins, Sinead and Sheila Fields, have always done everything together and so, after graduating in millinery, they decide to open their own hat shop. It’s a small business but thanks to hard work and talent, they build up a loyal clientele. Then one day a glamorous young actress buys one of their hats, wears it to the Baftas and suddenly success seems guaranteed. But within weeks, tragedy strikes when Sheila disappears, and is presumed dead. After months of desolation, Sinead is jst beginning to come to terms with her loss when she is given new hope: there has been a sighting of her sister. While she is filled with excitement at the thought that Sheila might be alive, she is haunted by questions. Why would Sheila have deserted her twin without a word? After all, they had always told each other everything … hadn’t they?

Colette’s Latest book, First We Take Manhattan is published by Simon & Schuster and available online here.

About the author

For more on Colette, check out her website, www.colettecaddle.com, follow her on Twitter @colettecaddle or “Like” her page on Facebook, Colette Caddle Books.

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