Friday, 16 October 2009


The Black and the White is a quest narrative. (I don't think I'm issuing any prospective spoilers in saying that.) And, at the moment, the writing of it feels a lot like a quest, too.

My central character, Martin, has no maps - nobody did in the fourteenth century, maps were political nor topographical - and he is having to navigate from one known point to the next, never knowing what each day's journey is going to bring.

And I'm doing something similar. While I was writing Not One of Us, I used a technique I have used in writing other novels: I had a general outline, I knew where it started and ended and I had a few 'set pieces' that I was working towards. Each new chapter was plotted as I came to it - before I started writing I would map out, spider-diagram fashion - what was going to happen in the next few pages. It helped me to see the themes I was bringing out, some of the conversations I might want the characters to have, the overall flow of the chapter and how it dovetailed in to what had gone before and was going to follow.

I'm not doing that this time. I didn't actually sit down and decide not to do it like that, I just started writing one day without making a chapter plan and found that things emerged as I was writing which would not have made their way into a spider diagram; so I came to the conclusion that that kind of roughing-out might actually be inhibiting my subconscious. Since this is where I think all my best writing comes from, I decided to give the new, freer, approach a go.

It's having its ups and downs. Like Martin, I'm prone to look up every now and then and think 'where on earth am I and how am I going to get to where I want to be from here?'. But, just as often, I find I'm looking up and thinking 'blimey, didn't know we were going there but I'm glad we did!'

In other respects, my approach is similar to what it's always been. I know the book's end. I know several big things that are going to happen but what happens between them is something the book and I are finding out in our own time.

It's slightly scary. But if I can tap into some of Martin's fear about what's going to happen, that can only be good. Can't it?


Frances Garrood said...

That's more or less what I do, Alis, and while it can sometimes lead to getting horribly stuck, like you, I love the surprises it brings. After all, it's like life, isn't it. Life is largely unplanned (or mine is, anyway) but we still manage to get from A to B (and C and D....). Good luck with it.

Alis said...

Thanks, Frances!

Akasha Savage said...

Although I've always known how Bathory is going to end - I have pictured that final scene in my mind sooo many times - and I've always known what events will take place along the way, how I actually get from A to B I've left to my characters...they've not let me down so far! I never plan ahead, I just take each chapter as it comes.