Tag Archives: Crafting the novel

#amwriting: setting the scene: making use of maps and floorplans

cape_disappointmentOnce again I am mapping a novel. This one will most likely top out at 80,000 words in the first draft and settle back to about 75,000  by the third draft. Right now I am writing the high points of this story as a rough draft.

However, to do this right, I need to put together the background and research the most up to date maps.

This piece is a contemporary novel and is set in a place that really exists: the area of Cape Disappointment on the south coast of Washington State. It is a place I visited many times as a child, and have fond memories of. This also gives my hubby and me the opportunity to revisit the place to see how it has changed and to better set the scene in my mind.

As I am writing, I will, of course, avail myself of Google Earth. This is a great tool for anyone whose work is set in the real world. Urban fantasies, contemporary literary novels (which is what this particular book is) and any number of romance or mystery stories benefit from the author’s diligence in making the background scenery as realistic as is possible. Google Earth give you a recent real-time view of many places.

google-earth-view-of-beards-hollow

Just as if you were writing a fantasy, making the setting as real as possible is critical. When writing any tale set in a real city or place, the author needs to know the general lay of the land, even if the setting is rarely mentioned. Remember, every time the protagonist and his/her companions leave the house, they will be in an environment that should be known and recognizable to the reader. Your knowledge of place will be clear in your writing, with every casual mention.

the-house-at-barons-hollow-smallI have drawn the floor plan of the house where much of the action takes place, and also the cove, along with the beach. The weather will keep them indoors a great deal of the time, and while it’s a large house, these people are a volatile mix, with many secrets that emerge over the course of the novel.

The floor plan and map of the pool area is critical, as some overheard conversations must  take place in an area where the inadvertent listener can remain unseen. The beach itself is  a known quantity, and the places people can find privacy in the dunes are all available via the Google Earth satellites.

The towns they will be going to for entertainment are also well-known to Washington residents, and while the names of the restaurant or bar will be my own creation, the street address will have its roots in reality. I will do this, despite the fact these are the sorts of things that never get mentioned. This is to make it real to me.

The biggest research issue for me with this novel will be learning about extreme sports, such as storm surfing and rock climbing. I know about surfing, as an interested bystander, but I am reading articles and threads on extreme sports enthusiast sites, to get an idea of the mindset of people who do these kinds of sports. When I began searching these sites, I wanted to know what the people who surf the Northeastern Pacific during storms consider too hazardous to attempt, and what they are really looking for.

 

The following is a link to a YouTube video of the kind of surf my two risk-takers would love to surf, but as this story takes place during the summer, the storms will be less severe than what this little clip shows. The beach, the cliffs, and the house will be the main scenes of the action.

Storm At Long Beach, YouTube

Whether I am writing fantasy or general fiction, my goal is to have the background scenery and setting as unobtrusive as possible. I want the reader to see it in their mind, which they will if I visualize it clearly and give them just enough imagery to hang their imagination on. The reader’s ability to imagine the setting is as important as what I believe the setting to be, so I must be careful to never contradict myself, or the reader will be confused.

413px-cape_disappointment_and_cape_disappointment_light

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Sinking the Hook

book-cover-middlemarchThe books that ring my bells all start out with a really great hook–in some cases the first line is the clincher, but most definitely by the time the first page has passed, I am hooked and ready to be enthralled.

Some of the best first lines ever: George Eliott’s Middlemarch starts, “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” That line makes you want to know Miss Brooke. And who is the observer who chronicles this?

How about this first line from Ulysses, by the king of great lines, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

pride and prejudiceOr, take this quote from the Guardian regarding the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The one everyone knows (and quotes). Parodied, spoofed, and misremembered, Austen’s celebrated zinger remains the archetypal First Line for an archetypal tale. Only Dickens comes close, with the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light etc…” 

Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. Our first lines must make the reader beg to know what will happen next.  We have to think about that first line, those first paragraphs, and how to land our reader.

TheEyeOfTheWorldDoes your first line have to introduce your main character? I think not. Dickens introduced an era in his opening lines, and it works. In his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan frequently opened with a glimpse into the side of evil, illuminating that which Rand Al Thor must somehow prevail against, and that always hooked me.

Regardless of what you introduce, the hook MUST pertain to the tale. It must reveal something about the book in such a way that it sticks with the reader. Do not waste time in getting to the plot, because even a good hook cannot save a bad novel.

The first pages of books that intrigue me introduce a “dramatic question” and even if the reader doesn’t realize it, that question can often be answered with a yes or a no–will the hero succeed? Will good conquer evil? Will love triumph? What the hell happened to drive Lews Therin Telemon mad and what will happen next?

Consider these things when writing the opening paragraphs:

1. The opening lines set the tone for the story

2. The opening lines introduce the dramatic question that is the core of the story

3. The opening lines introduce the sense of place, the setting of the story.

Ask yourself where the story truly begins, and start there. What came before that can be cut from the final draft, as it is just background information that is necessary for your reference.

I think it’s good to read books outside your genre, and read them with the idea of understanding what makes them classics. Read literary fiction, read romance, read sci-fi–read widely if only to see what a different genre is about, how it is different from what you write. In all fiction, the first pages are the ones that kidnap the reader. Covers and blurbs may sell the book, but the first pages plunge the reader into your world.

 

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