There are only two things I am sure about when I begin a new novel and the first is how the book will begin.
Before I sit down at my laptop, the story will have taken root in my brain for months, or in some cases, even years. I will have visualised the opening chapter, the scenery, the period in which the book is set and the characters who will hopefully give the novel that ‘unputdownable’ quality that I personally love in books.
Once the first chapter is written, my experience has always been that the book will write itself. I count myself as being incredibly lucky to be able to write this way, to be able to let the book flow, unstifled by over-planning or bound by strict adherence to accepted structure. Even now, after the publication of my sixth novel, I can be surprised by the direction a book takes. Sometimes I wake to find that I have changed my mind about a sub-plot and begin my morning deleting the previous day’s chapter and spilling the changes onto my laptop. It is a thrilling thing to be able to do- to create people, places and events and to live in your imagination, if only for a while.
A good story comes from the heart so writers should not dwell too much on plot design or composition and should instead write to suit their own style and individuality.
My own ideas usually come from my long career in the area of education, particularly in the area of special needs including working with children and adults with so-called “emotional difficulties”. Remember the maxim – write about what you know. It is true. Otherwise, your book will lack fluency and authenticity. Too much research slows the novel down and may end up reading more like a research paper than a work of fiction that has been informed by your interests, knowledge, your life experience and just as importantly, by your imagination.
Every writer needs to undertake research before they sit down at their computer to write and some novels will require more research than others. I love to travel and try to set my novels in places I have actually lived in or have visited but this isn’t always possible. My more recent novels The Pact and White Ghost Ridge were a slight departure from my previous works and required significant research because while I knew and understood the type of people I write about, I didn’t know the landscape and had to drive down every single motorway and through every town I described in my novels on Google maps. Thank God it exists and that I am blessed with endless patience!
Knowing what you can’t write about is as important as knowing what you can. I couldn’t write a love story if my life depended on it, nor could I write horror novels as I would terrify myself never mind my readers. My brain is simply not wired for these topics. I “do” crime well and I “do” dark, psychological books, well. I “do” “damaged people” well, because I have lived these stories. I have worked in institutions, in residential homes and in psychiatric hospitals. I once even employed as the only lay person in an enclosed convent in Sydney. Long story! I have taught children deemed too dangerous to be with other children in one-to-one situations and have come out of those situations better for the experience because it made me understand. It made me know these people and their stories. I can be funny and I always ensure there is some humour in the story and if it fits, perhaps even a smidgeon of romance. I can do drama and I can do intrigue but I can’t do science-fiction. Why? Because I know pretty much nothing about topics that don’t interest me. Repeat- Write about what you know. Write about topics you love and which interest you. If you are not passionate about the story and the characters you are writing about, avid readers will sniff this a mile off and your book will go unfinished or worse still, unread.
The second thing I always know when I begin a novel is how it will end. I know this long before I write the 100,000 or so words that will form my novel. I know it before I even write the first page. And when I type The End, there is always a certain kind of sadness because I am saying goodbye to people who have been on my mind every day and night until those last words have been written. But the next story is always waiting to be told. It is already there. I just have to begin … again.
(c) Carol Coffey
About White Ghost Ridge:
When ex-trooper Lee Carter is arrested at the scene of a crime with the murder weapon in his hand, Detective Sergeant Locklear knows the odds are stacked against proving his friend innocent. Suspended from duty with Richmond PD, Native American Locklear knows his only hope of saving Lee is to follow leads which take him to the place of his birth, the Badlands of South Dakota.
With his shrewd trooper Josefina Mendoza by his side, Locklear finds himself caught between a merciless organisation responsible for the theft of priceless indigenous artefacts and an equally ruthless secret society trying to stop them.
When the trail brings Locklear into conflict with old friends and even older enemies, he and Mendoza uncover a conspiracy involving university academics, international diplomats, the US army and the inhabitants of an impoverished Native American reservation.
Caught in a bloody conflict in which there are no rules, the line between right and wrong becomes blurred. Locklear is forced to choose, but can he choose in time to save his friend?
Order your copy online here.