The Write Thing - Opening Act
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE PINK HEART SOCIETY MAGAZINE - JANUARY 2019 EDITION
I once planned a three-book series (Crush, Crave, and Caught), with each story having its own central romance but featuring interconnected characters.
This is how Book One, Crush, began:
Nell and Drew entered Ava Hartnett’s apartment true to form—talking and laughing. Drew looking casually impeccable. Nell looking like she’d been dragged through a hedge.
Breaking off his conversation with Nell mid-sentence, Drew gripped Ava by the shoulders and gave her a smacking kiss on the lips—his usual greeting. “Ava, brace yourself,” he said.
Ava looked at Nell, who rolled her eyes.
“He’s being a drama queen,” Nell said, but she blushed as she said it.
Ava closed the door and ushered them further inside. “I’m braced.”
Ava’s apartment was thoroughly contemporary. Open plan and vast, it was effectively one flawless expanse divided into separate living, dining and kitchen zones by cleverly positioned furniture. It was decorated along minimalist lines—all pale, fashionable elegance. Ideal for pale, fashionably elegant Ava, who was a well-respected reporter in television news.
Nell settled herself on Ava’s cream leather sofa. She shifted back and forth, trying to get comfortable.
Drew breezed past the sofa and headed for Ava’s perfectly modern kitchen. “We need champagne,” he announced.
“Well there’s a change,” Ava drawled.
Drew laughed. “Come and help me.”
One of the most impressive things about Drew was that he was very much at home, not only in his own confident skin—and it was a gorgeous skin—but wherever he happened to be, whatever he happened to be doing. Even if he were engaged in nothing more invasive that burrowing inside someone else’s fridge and poking at the bottles inside. They were all like that in the Stevens family. Confident, full of energy, sure of their place in the world. It made them practically irresistible.
Three friends… Three books.
I intended only one of these friends to have a prized central romance in my trilogy; the other two friends existed to act as advisers to the hero and heroine as the story progressed. So why was I waxing so lyrical about all of them equally? It took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t introducing these characters to readers so much as introducing them to myself, and using the dialogue between them as a shortcut to articulating the conflict to come between the hero and heroine.
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with finding your way through a story as you write it instead of before you start (pantsers of the world, unite!)—but if you do that, you have to be clear-eyed and brutal when it comes to assessing/editing the draft you end up with. In the case of Crush, my clear-eyed brutality took the form of killing off the first two chapters and starting the story at Chapter 3 instead, which was when my hero finally arrived on the scene to articulate the conflict for himself!
I don’t mind saying it was such a revelation, I’ve used the ‘Start at Chapter 3’ experiment ever since as a test of how quickly I’m getting to the good stuff. And when I find that changing the starting point makes the opening more dynamic, I don’t necessarily have to lose all the lovely details from my murdered chapters—sometimes it’s enough for me to know those details without sharing them, because they allow me to write my characters with more depth; other times I redistribute the details where they add a nuance or make an impact for the good of the story.
Postscript: The heroine of Crush was Nell, who became Evie in the final draft. The story ended up being written not in its original third person but in the first person told from Evie’s point of view—and hello Wanting Mr. Wrong! I never did get over those other two friends, though, which is why Ava became Chloe and scored her own story (my RuBY winning book Escaping Mr. Right), and Drew will also have his story (hopefully written in 2019). All quite different from the Crush, Crave, Caught I first envisaged. However… Crave metamorphosed into my medical romance From Fling to Forever, and Caught became my first published novel, Here Comes the Bridesmaid—both standalone stories completely disconnected from Wanting Mr. Wrong, and both were published before Wanting Mr. Wrong.
Confused? Don’t be! That’s just my long-winded way of saying writing magic can happen when you make mistakes and work out how to fix them. PS: If you want to read how the first chapter of Crush/Wanting Mr. Wrong turned out, you can read it by following the link HERE.