Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday's How She Does It with Cathy Spencer

We all know there are six elements in writing fiction Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. I believe the first five lead to the sixth which for me is the Plot. What's your take on this?

I actually work the other way around. I start with the Plot, or a story idea, and everything else unfolds from there. Who is the protagonist in the story, where is the setting, is it contemporary or historical (I haven’t written anything in the future yet), how does it evolve to the ending I have in mind? The “Why” is interesting; sometimes that’s the back story, and it’s not always easy to determine how much of that is critical to the current story with our standard “show, don’t tell” style of writing. Try comparing our modern style to some of the early novels written in the nineteenth century, and you’ll see a lot more emphasis on the back story and setting than is popular today.

1.How do you create your characters? Do you have a special system?

My heroine comes first, based on the broad outline of the plot. For her and for the other major characters, I create a full life-story, and decide how much to include in the back story. Other characters evolve as I decide who is necessary in the world of my major character, and to the story. Sometimes I base a character on an actor and a particular role he's played to give me a better idea of what the person looks like, behaves, and talks. I may also base characters on people I know, or take someone I know as a starting point but change the character as the story evolves.

2. Do your characters come before your plot? Do you sketch out your plot or do you let your characters develop en route to the end?

The story idea comes first, and with that, the major character(s). I know the broad outline of my story and how it will end before I start writing, but the story develops as I write. I'm not the kind of writer who plans everything out ahead of time. Often my characters help me to develop the story.

3. Do you know how the story will end before you begin? In a general or a specific way?

In a general way, I know how the story will begin and end. The frightening part is all the rest in between.

4. Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses on your book shelf?

The setting for my mystery was an amalgamation of two small towns I've lived in, but its location and specifics was fictional. Calgary is the backdrop for the fictional university I created, but I didn't write very much about the city itself. I used real cities for my regencies - Bath, Portsmouth, London - as well as a fictional small town, Rexton. I've visited Bath and London on a couple of occasions, so I've seen the architecture and locations. I use maps and research the areas to have a more accurate feeling for them, particularly in their historical context. No house plans, although I have a book containing pictures of actual houses that Jane Austen occupied during her lifetime, which no doubt influenced the homes I created. Also, Jane Austen's novels have influenced the settings for my regencies.

5. Where do you do your research? From books you own, the library or the internet?

I do own a few books on the Regency period which I have used for research, but a lot of research was done using the internet. It's so much easier when you're in the middle of writing a scene and want to know what kind of carriage to use or what a formal regency gown would look like, and all that information is available at your fingertips on the internet.

6. Are you a draft writer or do you revise as you go along?

I'm terrible. I'll write the first day without reading any of it, but at the start of the second day I have to go back and polish what I wrote before I write anything new. I don't like having anything too raw sitting there, even in early drafts. Which means I've rewritten some scenes, particularly the first chapter, over and over and over and over again.

Cathy Spencer at Books We Love:

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Melissa Keir said...

It's always nice to hear about how other authors are creating their stories. :)

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Cathy,
Nice interview.