Writing Regency; How Not to Plan your Novel
I know there are countless excellent writing courses, and lots of them free, which will teach you how to write a romantic novel. When I was thinking, five years ago, about how to begin writing, I googled tons of them…and never used any of them.
It can be counterproductive to try to follow a formula, and that is certainly how I felt after I had researched so many courses, hints and tips. It was overwhelming, and that is why, in a previous post, I talked about how to get started—simply by writing a sentence and taking it one sentence at a time. Pretty hard to get overwhelmed by too much advice when you have no stake in the outcome and just take it bit at a time. This blog I wanted to talk about how to plan—or not—your novel.
Some people might find a course or a bunch of tips, helpful. For myself, feeling as overwhelmed as I was when I first began, I decided not to plan ahead, and my first novel kind of wrote itself. I really just gave up any idea of controlling my pen. I let the characters write their own dialogue, and it seemed to free me up enough to allow a storyline to develop of itself.
In A Scandal at Delford, my first novel, I began with a very simple premise; a girl goes to visit her cousin and ends up in love. The rest of the story evolved as the chapters flew by. I tried to remember to include things I had always enjoyed in Austen and other regency novels; balls, walking in the country, dressing up in regency dress, country life in general, afternoon tea—all those quintessential staples of regency novels which makes them authentic and different from our own twenty-first century lives.
Then I made sure each action led to something—did we learn more about a character, or a situation, to make that action or event worth including in the story? Its no good writing endless details about how the heroine rode her horse over a park, sat under a tree and rescued a kitten, unless it moves the story forward, unless it serves a purpose. So I made that rule for myself as I went along, and if the action seemed not to be pertinent to the story line, I added in something that made it important, or I cut the writing out and did something different.
One thing you have to get used to is being ruthless when it comes to critiquing your own writing. You must be prepared to determinedly ruthless, and discard anything you find useless or not of the quality you are aspiring to. It can be very hard to cut pet scenes and stuff you toiled over for hours, but if you don’t, you won’t ever be a good writer. Point.
Another trick I discovered which produces creative ideas while writing, is to think on a theme or two, an idea in general, a statement you want to make. Examples might be redemption, weakness, loyalty, grief, cruelty, joy, aging, deceit, etc. Themes or issues give your plot ‘body’ or flesh it out—they give your heroine a mental or emotional challenge to work out. You may not preplan your novel’s storyline in detail, but if you hold a theme or idea in mind which you’d like to explore, scenes will naturally mold themselves to that theme as you work out in the moment how this might be explored in a certain scene or dialogue.
For example, in Beauty and the Beast of Thornleigh, I really wanted to explore the idea of what a hero really is. So my heroine, Georgiana, has to think about why she puts certain men in her life on a pedestal, and how that has affected her attitudes. My hero, Asher Brandt, also confronts heroism and what it is. If you have read this novel, you will remember how this theme recurs in the story. Once you have a theme or two, as you write with that in mind, scenes then develop which bring this idea to the fore, and these scenes bring characters closer to resolving their issues. Writing with this idea in mind, you will find that each scene you write will naturally move the action forward and your scenes will be relevant rather than superfluous to the story.
From there, your storyline becomes more clear as you then realize you could make this or that happen in order to explore this theme further or to make sure your character comes to some kind of understanding by the end of the novel. You may begin your novel with little idea of the story line except a very brief premise, and a theme or two to explore, and by half way you may now have a very clear idea of where it is going to the point where you may have to sit down and make a list of things that need to happen to bring the story to a successful conclusion.
Always resolve your character’s challenges, no matter if they are mental or physical. Always give the reader closure on an idea or theme, by allowing your character to overcome, understand, face, explore, or accept their ‘theme’ issue or challenge.
Something I found really helpful too, is to make sure that even though I don’t exactly know where my plot is leading just yet, my characters are well rounded and have their unusual and interesting quirks; they are not all generic NPCs playing a role. This can then lead to more ideas on scenes and plot lines, which can give cohesion to a story line.
For example, in A Bath Affair, my heroine Clemence is very outspoken, and thinks of her unspoken sharp and witty retorts as bees buzzing in her head, trying to get out. Now my heroine has a quirky personality trait, which makes her more interesting as a character, more authentic as a human, and moves the plot along since she is often saying outrageous and unacceptable things (in a Mayfair drawing room anyway) and leads her to be courageous when the plot calls for it.
There are lots of different ways to generate plotlines and move your story forward and to give it body, but these I have mentioned have really worked for me. Something else may work for you, and that’s fine—the point is to write, and the fun is in the discovering how YOU as a writer, work best.