Previous posts have concerned how I feel in the middle of a book, and at the end. Now seems a good time to cover how I begin, as I'm at that stage with 'Just for the Holidays'.
Beginning a book is a little like falling in love. I think of it when I should be thinking about something else, I don't hear everything that's said to me, I feel a little uncertain, a little apprehensive, a lot excited. What will happen? What if...?
Every book's different but here, loosely, is where and how a book begins:
Ideas come to me through reading or hearing something, thinking about my past, or just, apparently, out of the ether. If an idea sticks in my mind, my subconscious plays with it. Inconveniently, the ideas my subconscious likes often come halfway through another book, so I have to try and keep the new idea bubbling on the back burner.
'Just for the Holidays' originated from a story told to me over a meal. My friend's holiday with her sister had gone from bad to worse as the sister dropped bombshell after bombshell on her. I asked if I could use the idea, suitably modified, explored it a bit more, decided what would suit me and what would need to be changed, and in which sort of direction I'd take things.
My characters come to me early in the process. I begin with hero and heroine. My subconscious plays with them, too, and I find myself making decisions that I'm not completely aware of making.
For 'Just for the Holidays' I decided that Leah is, like me, a bit of a petrolhead. This is going to allow me to have some fun with the research, as she does track days and goes to motor sport events so, naturally, so will I have to! One big element to her character was established by the initial idea: Leah has chosen not to get married or have children. She's a free spirit and likes her life exactly as it is. I wanted her to have a cool job and found a suitable one, one most people wouldn't count as a job. Importantly, Leah has an older sister, Michele, who's quite different: a teacher, married with children. Between the different lifestyles of the two sisters lies a lot of emotion and conflict.
Ronan is a grounded helicopter pilot. I've tried to make him something else because I've written about helicopters once before but he came to me as a grounded helicopter pilot and my subconscious has turned obstinate about it. Again, research is a pleasure. And if anyone would like to take me up in a helicopter, please get in touch.
Now comes the part where I take these few facts and develop something bigger. I create secondary characters to impact on the hero, the heroine and the plot. I give Ronan and Leah conflicts, I explore their lives, their histories, their goals. I mull over what's drawing them together and what will keep them apart. I look at them from the points of view of other characters – what does her sister think of Leah? What does Ronan think of her? What does her employer think of her? What does Leah think of him? What does his son think of him? etc etc. I feel this technique gives me properly rounded characters.