I recently completed my debut novel and, like the participants in many a reality show, I am happy to report it was ‘quite a journey’.
It’s a pity this over-worked phrase has become Britain’s Favourite Cliché, because the writing process really fits the analogy. Every novel is a means of getting the characters from A to B and it’s the writer’s job to ensure they complete the journey.
Once you’ve selected your characters, they become your travelling companions and it’s up to you to decide where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
Are you going to let your characters follow their noses or are you going to plan their journey carefully, ensuring you cover a pre-determined amount of ground in a set time, stopping off at places of interest especially selected in advance?
Personally, I like to know where I am going. That way, I can break the journey into chapters, knowing that my fellow travellers will have new experiences to inspire or frustrate them at each turn in the road. That’s not to say everything will go according to plan. It’s easy to get sidetracked or take a wrong turning. Sometimes I found we were visiting places of interest in a different order to the one I’d intended. We’d spend longer on some stages than others and some were bypassed altogether.
It certainly took longer than expected. It was harder work. There were more uphill struggles and the wind was against us more than I’d allowed for. There were days when I wanted to pack up and go home, thinking we were better suited to a day trip than the expedition we’d undertaken.
Occasionally I wondered if I’d chosen the right travelling companions - were they all pulling their weight, for example? And days when I despaired about the mode of transport I’d opted for.
When the going got tough, it was my characters, my companions, who kept me going. They had journeys of their own to undertake, problems to overcome, hearts to win and lose and they needed me to help them achieve their goals. How could I just abandon them when it was me who’d dragged them kicking and screaming from their beds and places of work in the first place?
I took courage from the fact that each word, however long it took to find, was another step nearer our shared destination; each a twist or turn in the plot another point of interest on the tour.
And then, suddenly, the finishing line was in sight and we were racing towards it with renewed vigour. We’d conquered the Everest I’d created for my characters. Our destination and our goals – both corporate and individual – had been achieved. Time I was gone.
It was an emotional farewell from my point of view but my involvement in their lives had come to an end. They didn’t need me anymore.
So what now, you might be wondering? Well I’m gathering together another ragtag band of explorers and planning where to take them.
Anyone seen that atlas?