I am delighted to welcome Lucy to Swords and Lattes for our first guest post. Her screenwriting advice is always practical and rooted in years of industry experience. Recently, she has turned her talent to novelling and, while in the grips of my sequel writing, I thought it would be great to explore another writer’s point of view on wrestling with the agony of writing The Next Book.
Without further ado:
If you’ve ever written a novel, you’ll know it’s a painfully frustrating, isolating and generally miserable experience. It’s also like winning the lottery and all your millions are delivered in molten chocolate (or whatever is *your* fave, all the choc’s mineallminegetyerhandsoff).
It’s a weird thing, novel writing. You spend all your time wading through soul treacle, desperate to write THE END … And then you DO and you feel like your child has left home – those painstaking, slo-mo years rushed by so fast! – and then you burst into tears.
So, really: the LAST thing you want to do is do it all over again … yet you feel compelled to. Or at least, I do. And I can’t be the *only* masochist writer around, as there’s NOT many novelists with only one book to their name!
My novel, THE DECISION: LIZZIE’S STORY is out next year in the English Language. It’s already been available for a year in German. Why? ‘Cos the Germans bought it and translated it, basically. Which was nice. Over there it’s known as BACHENTSCHEIDUNG or “Gut Decision” and is a stand-alone book (so far) about a young girl, the aforementioned Lizzie, who finds herself pregnant at 17. In SLIDING DOORS style, Lizzie is presented with all the possible options of dealing (or not) with this, such as having the baby; abortion; miscarriage and so on.
This book sold back in 2011, but then 2012 came around and I found myself ill with cancer. For the first time in my adult life, I found myself not working and having to – le gasp – SIT STILL for hours at a time as they filled me full of drugs. As is common with life threatening situations (I’m told), I was forced to make a few realisations about my life, most of which are too personal or boring to detail here. But one of them was this:
I want to write more books like THE DECISION, all about issues teens face – and if I get through this, I will.
Happily, I am now in remission. But having been slapped in the face with the notion of just how short life is, I’m going to do what I promised myself all those months ago and write THE DECISION as a series of books for teenage girls, aged 14-19. Each one will deal with a common medical or social issue and just like Lizzie has to deal with her pregnancy, each (female) protagonist will be presented with a dilemma of some kind and then all the various CHOICES of how it *could* play out … Some will not be as bad as she fears; others worse than she can imagine.
Why teenagers? Well, they get a rough deal: they’re monstered by the media and stereotyped by society constantly. Sure, some are a royal pain in the ass – I was a teacher at secondary level, plus I have a fifteen year old son myself – but generally speaking, I like teenagers; I remember what it’s like to feel adrift and alone, navigating one’s way to ADULT LIFE without so much as a map or directions. It’s tough being a young person at the best of times and let’s face it, now ain’t the best of times.
So I’m currently editing THE DECISION: JASMINE’S STORY. I wrote this during chemo and was pleased to find that despite being off my tits for most of the summer on a delicious cocktail of steroids and Taxol, it mostly works storyline-wise.
The protagonist, Jasmine, is very different to Lizzie: an only child (Lizzie has five sisters), Jasmine is a runner and very studious, doing the sciences at the local college. Whilst Lizzie is not the life and soul of the party, Jasmine fades into the wallpaper so much she could be in the next room. Because Jasmine’s story is part of THE DECISION series, we find ourselves back in the fictional rural seaside resort of Winby, Exmorton and Linwood, where Lizzie lives. The two girls are not friends, but living in the same story world they inevitably cross paths and Jasmine appears fleetingly in Lizzie’s story and vice versa.
Most strikingly however, Jasmine has a best friend, Olivia, who is suffering from depression. Jasmine is able to recognise this because her mother, Linda, suffers from the same, albeit for different reasons. Unable to deal with the problems of her family or friend, Jasmine pretends to herself it’s not happening … Until one day, in which she is forced by a new girl – the archetypal “mean girl”, if you like – to make a choice: her old friend, or the promise of being “popular”.
The notion of being “popular” and what this means in explored in Jasmine’s story, meaning the theme of the book is essentially “self esteem”. This is what is making it so challenging for me to write and edit, because self esteem is very much a metaphysical thing, whereas a teen pregnancy, such as Lizzie’s is obviously PHYSICAL. Whereas Lizzie has LITERAL potential obstacles to deal with, Jasmine’s are much harder for her to understand, never mind address.
As a teacher, I saw many girls attempt to destroy one another for a chance of being “popular”. As a student, I remember the misery of being The Outsider and wondering if anyone could see the “real me”. Looking back now, I wish I could tell the scared little girl I was that none of that shit matters. It’s no accident that in my brain, Jasmine is essentially that part of me who felt left overlooked and humiliated by others’ mockery and dismissiveness.
At the moment, the beginning and end of the manuscript is strong. It’s the middle that is the issue. I think because I was scared – yes, scared – of writing about the metaphysical for the first time (not to mention feeling melodramatic because I was gravely ill), I wrote a ridiculous tangent into the middle of the story. Instead of “keeping it real” (something Lizzie’s story has been praised for, especially its “grittiness), in Jasmine’s I went into fantasy-land: there’s floods, rescues by helicopter and even a massive cliff collapse!
Now, of course all of those things CAN happen in “real life” and certainly, bits of it in the manuscript are exciting. But this sort of “larger than life” happening is NOT what THE DECISION series is about. THE DECISION series takes real scenarios that real teens may find themselves facing and presents them in a realistic and plausible way.
This is why I have set up Bang2write on Ask.Fm recently: I want teens to be able to ask me questions, anonymously if they want, about the issues they face. In addition, I am collecting articles for and about teenagers on a new B2W dedicated Pinterest board, The Decision: YOUR Story.
So my advice to writers who are struggling with a second or companion novel in a series? Think about your message, what you’re trying to achieve and who your audience is. Realising who you want to reach will tell you everything you need to know. Good luck!
Lucy V Hay is a script editor, novelist and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Lucy is author of the book, WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS (Creative Essentials) and the novels, THE DECISION: LIZZIE’S STORY and THE DECISION: JASMINE’S STORY, both out in 2014.