Anne here, writing about the process of starting a new book. I'm thinking about this, not simply because I'm starting a book at the moment, but also because a few romance-writing friends of mine are in town and we were talking last night about our different writing processes. And since a few of you have asked about how we approach a book, I thought I'd write about my process today.
When I start a book, there's an initial time when I'm doing very little writing, but a lot of dreaming and spinning story ideas, scribbling bits down by hand in a book or on the back of an envelope and researching possibilities. It's a process of gradual coalescence as odd ideas and aspects of character come together and I start to see the possible shape of a story.
My hero and heroine usually do one of two things — they either emerge slowly, making themselves known to me over a period of a few chapters. I write and rewrite and change their names and personalities and backgrounds until they come to life and start interacting with other characters and the chemistry is right. This happened with Tallie's Knight — my original heroine was a young woman called Serena and she was cool, collected, unflappable and ever so slightly annoying. As was my hero, so of course, it didn't work. So I replaced her with a much younger and more naive girl, a vulnerable, warm-hearted day-dreamer with decided opinions, and the moment I put her on the page with the hero, they created sparks and the story was off and running.
Alternatively, characters arrive fully formed on the page and proceed to take over, taking the book in a direction I hadn't planned. Gideon, from Perfect Rake is the perfect example. I'd actually planned to write a hero who was dark and dangerous, and Gideon just strolled onto the page, being funny and flippant and taking right over. I wrestled with him for ages, before giving in and letting him be who he was. And if it sounds like I can't control my characters — I am aware of how silly that sounds — but it's true.
For the last few books I've made story collages. A number of authors I admire use this process so I became curious about it and when I experimented with it, I found I really enjoyed the process. More, I found it revealed to me relationships and story possibilities that I might not otherwise have noticed. And the best thing about having a collage is that it plunges me right into the world of the book — invaluable after an interrupted working day.
I'd always used location pictures and the odd evocative image, but I'd never had photos of my hero or heroine — in fact I always resisted questions that asked what movie star I'd have play my characters. I have a clear picture of them in my mind, but there's never a 'right' face of picture. The faces I use in my collages are not so much my characters, but representative of some aspect of them. For instance in this collage for Perfect Kiss, it's the expression on the hero's face that's important, not his features. My hero had darker hair and strange yellow wolf's eyes, but he had that mix of control, confidence and deeply hidden vulnerability that I see in that photo. There's an element of the gothic in that book, and the setting plays a large part — and you can see that from the collage.
I also like to have a theme song, or songs. For the Devil Riders series, every one of my theme songs has been a song sung by Katie Melua — she's a young singer, born in Georgia (former USSR) and raised in Ireland and England, and there's something about her beautiful haunting voice and lyrics that have clicked in my mind with the books.
It wasn't quite my theme song for His Captive Lady, but a song that linked with the mood of parts of the story was Katie Melua's Piece by Piece. Beautiful, heartbreaking song. I won't explain, don't want to spoil the story, but if you've read the book, you'll know which parts the song suits.
The theme song of the next story, To Catch A Bride, (Sept 09) is another Katie Melua song - The Closest Thing to Crazy. Listen to it here and feel the gorgeous goosebumps.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DCacIEbAlM
How can I think I'm standing strong,
Yet feel the air beneath my feet?
How can happiness feel so wrong?
How can misery feel so sweet?
How can you let me watch you sleep,
Then break my dreams the way you do?
How can I have got in so deep?
Why did I fall in love with you?
This is the closest thing to crazy I have ever been
Feeling twenty-two, acting seventeen,
This is the nearest thing to crazy I have ever known,
I was never crazy on my own…
And now I know that there's a link between the two,
Being close to craziness and being close to you.
But finally, all the playing with images and songs and dreams and ideas brings me to the moment when I just have to sit down in the chair and, as Barbara Samuel once said, 'begin to ruin it" — when I try to put the story that's dancing in my head into words on paper. So I write the first page. It's a page that I'll rewrite a number of times–the opening scene is so important — but sometimes, just sometimes, you can hit the right note first up and it will start the story unfolding in the best, most dramatic way. That's when it's magic.
What about you? As a reader, do you find it interesting to hear about the writing process, or would you rather not know how it happens? And if you're a writer, how do you approach your stories? And if you have any questions, feel free to ask .