Beginning, Muddle and End – or thinking about the people populating a book.

Everything is set up in my historical novella about Ruby and we’re heading towards a crescendo. I even have a working title  –  Nobody’s Daughter – and I’m about 2/3 of the way through, perhaps more. I can’t quite tell.

An opportunity has dropped in to Ruby’s lap. It’s all set up nicely but because its one of my stories, it’s all about to go wrong through no fault of her own. Fate and other people’s behaviour conspire against her and she’s going to face a dilemma. I’d better not spoil it for you but Ruby’s plot strand moves towards a dream that may not come true.

There is another plot strand – the one for the minor character who has become the major nuisance for Ruby. Margaret has been plain daft. She’s not stupid but she’s wilful, obnoxious and weirdly,  in a position of great power within the household because, as a victim of her own folly she’s going to affect everyone’s life.

If it sounds familiar of course it’s a bit like that Jane Austen where the sister runs away with the soldier. Except I wanted to explore just how a woman with a brain can also act against her own best interests.

It’s unlikely that in this novel, Margaret will change. She may never. At the moment, I am taking her towards the dark world of madness rather than acceptance and adjustment. Nobody’s Daughter is set at the time of Mad King George and another character is a Quaker who works with the mentally ill. The 1790s are an interesting time in madness. But whatever happens in Margaret’s development, it  will be in the next book not this one. I’ve roughly planned a series and I might give her some redemption but for now she’s a royal pain.

So I’ve climbed towards a kind of crescendo where Margaret and Ruby’s personalities and needs clash and cause Ruby’s dilemma. There are probably terms for this in academia, and even in structural analysis.  In film, I think it’s called a reversal. The film world seems to take its structural words from Joseph Campbell who noted that every hero has a reversal of fortune.

If I were working in the academy, I would look to analyse and find the right word but I’ve made a choice to be in the world of writing as a writer, working with other writers at Pearse & Black, avoiding academia in fact, and choosing an environment where we just get the job done intelligently.

So my beautiful literary word for this point I’m at is muddle. It seems like everyone in the book –  and I –  have to diddle around a bit now before the change of fortune can be fully explored if indeed it needs to be. Muddle. Diddle. Onomatopoeically that’s what it feels like. And quite honestly  I have been feeling overwhelmed. My brain just gets tired with trying to see where everything should land.

Thank heaven then for my writing community. I spent New Year with a friend who writes for television. I asked her just how she gets past the muddle in the middle.

I go back to character, she said.

At first that didn’t make sense. Screen/play writers always seem a bit more focussed on character than I am but I tried it anyway and of course! It clears the way. If I get next to – get with, get into – my characters, I start thinking about people and making them real.

Apart from Ruby and Margaret, there’s one character who should be fleshed out but isn’t yet – the male lead. I need to get into his head. Mostly I’ve been working from Ruby’s point of view in relation to him and it’s not really his head she’s focussed on to be honest. She’s only 19 and all hormones. But I really don’t want him to be just a body-part, because he’s important throughout  the series. So, deepening my sense of him is about finding out who this man is. As I study him, I hope he’ll get into action – characters usually do – and whatever he does, it’ll be interesting enough to  both take the pressure off Ruby and Margaret and their conflict in my head, and set the stage for the next part of the plot. I think that’s how it works. I’ll try that anyway.

If you would like to join Pearse & Black for our January Write & Meet, with some exercises to help relate to the people in your work, it would be great to see you at Creative Courses for Writers

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