Nothing is Set in Stone: Allowing Room For Freedom When Writing Fiction

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. I took a couple of weeks off for the holidays, and then a bout of the flu kept me down for a bit. I ended up spending most of my Christmas break revising When It Rained at Hembry Castle. The novel is in its final edits phase, and I’ll have galley copies in print and ebook in a week or two in case any of you would like a free review copy. I’ll send out word when they’re available. If you’re interested, just contact me at my email address: meredithallard(at)aol(dot)com. In fact, I just started a new Pinterest board for the novel with photographs I used for inspiration for clothing, settings, and characters. If you’re interested in the Victorian era, or in the novel, by all means check out the board. I’ll be adding more pins every day.

Scotney Castle--one of the influences for Hembry Castle and the castle used on the book cover.

Scotney Castle–one of the influences for Hembry Castle and the castle used on the book cover.

This is always the point of writing a new novel where I’m reminded of Dorothy Parker’s great saying: I hate writing but love having written. I admit that Hembry was difficult for me to grasp ahold of. I hadn’t struggled like that with a novel since I wrote Her Dear & Loving Husband from 2009-2011. Her Dear & Loving Husband was the most complicated plot I had written up to that point, and I had a lot of trouble understanding how to make the past and present storylines work. It wasn’t until I had the novel professionally critiqued that I understood the flow of the story, and then once I figured it out writing the next two books in the series, Her Loving Husband’s Curse and Her Loving Husband’s Return, came easily because they followed the same plot structure. My next novel, That You Are Here, was such a dream to write. For whatever reason, there were no struggles with that book. I understood who the characters were immediately, and I saw the story play out like a movie, which meant all I had to do was take dictation. The book took me four months to write—a crazy-quick time, at least for me.

Again, with When It Rained at Hembry Castle there were struggles. In a sense I was back to where I was when I wrote Her Dear & Loving Husband—I had this whole new world I had to figure out. The plot for When It Rained at Hembry Castle became the most difficult plot I had yet undertaken, even more so than the plots in the Loving Husband Trilogy. In the Loving Husband Trilogy there are two points of view, from the two romantic leads, James and Sarah, and two time periods, the present and whichever historical period that novel is set. In When It Rained at Hembry Castle, I initially thought I would use the same two person point of view as I had in the Loving Husband Trilogy, but after beating myself about the head for a few months trying to make it work, I realized that two points of view were not enough for this novel. In keeping with its Downton Abbey inspiration, there are upstairs stories and downstairs stories in Hembry, and I finally realized that I needed more points of view in order to make this work. I haven’t yet tried the head-hopping omniscient third person point of view (one of these days I’ll write a novel where I try that one), but for Hembry I opened the field so that we get the point of view of more than just the two romantic leads (in this case, Edward and Daphne). I limited the scope of POV to one character for each chapter–this way it isn’t difficult for the reader to follow.

Hembry CastleFor me, that’s the frustration (and the fun) of writing fiction. Anything goes, which means sometimes it takes a while to figure out exactly what you need to do to bring each new story to life. The two person point of view worked well for the Loving Husband Trilogy, so I assumed it would work for Hembry. It didn’t. There are too many characters in Hembry, and there’s too much going on for my two romantic leads to be everywhere. I needed to let some of the other characters have their moments in the sun. Once I allowed the characters the freedom to speak for themselves, the headaches started to go away and the novel started to resemble the story I wanted to write in the first place.

Once I understand the plot structure and the way the pieces fit together, that’s when I’m in the flow of writing and there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. The first part of writing a novel has always been difficult for me. That’s when I flap about like a fish out of water (or an asthmatic without an inhaler—speaking from experience), spending hours writing scenes that don’t make sense and have nothing to do with the story I want to tell. Every time I’m about to give up, though, I force myself to keep going because I’ve been at this long enough to know that the “shitty first draft” phase will pass and the story will reveal itself in the end. How much hair I have in the end always remains to be seen, but bald or not bald, I know that I’ll figure out whatever it is that’s not working. This is something I need to relearn every time I write a new novel, but most especially whenever I start a novel set in a new world. I also need to remind myself that nothing is set in stone, and I can experiment, play, and try things until I find the winning combination. I could have imposed the two person point of view on Hembry because I know that works and I’ve had success with it before. But it didn’t work in this story, in this world, and I needed to allow myself the freedom to play around until I discovered what did work. Of course, now that all the heavy lifting is done, I can say that I love having written.

Happy 2016!

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