Dreaming Of a Write Christmas?

Francesca and Elaine compare Christmas preparations with their writing

No wonder it took us till 6.30pm to unwrap the presents!

No wonder it took us till 6.30pm one year to unwrap the presents!

Francesca: In recent years, my immediate family has more than doubled from six to thirteen, with the addition of partners, grandchildren and step grandchildren. It’s made Christmas quite expensive, and time consuming, as you can imagine. Eight adults buying presents for seven adults each equals at least fifty-six presents.

This year, one of my daughters came up with the idea of doing a secret Santa for the adults. Our names have gone into a draw and we each have only three people to buy for. One present is chosen off that person’s gift list. One is maybe a smelly or foody present up to a maximum of £10. The third is to be a recycled or pre-loved present, therefore costing nothing.

Perhaps re-set the story in the 1960s?

Perhaps re-set the story in the 1960s?

It got me thinking about my writing. With time a premium in December, can I fit in anything beyond editing my novel? I’ve been thinking of getting back to writing short stories. Perhaps I could take the ‘Secret Santa’ approach here too. One story could be completely new, a longer piece, say two to three thousand words (which some magazines are calling for). A second could be shorter, a maximum of a 1,000 words. There are a number of competitions around currently requiring this word count or less that would be ideal. A third story could be a recycling of a pre-loved one. I have plenty that I like but have never sold. Clearly something about them was unsuitable but it might easily be put right. What if I changed the age of a character, or the gender? The setting could be altered from town to country, or vice versa. The main character might have a different job. Perhaps the ending is lacklustre and in need of some zing. Then there’s the title.

If things go to plan, by December 25th I’ll have three stories in my outbox and three nice presents under the tree.


Elaine: When Francesca and I discussed Christmas, we were astounded to discover that our families were doing similar things. I also have an ever-expanding family; in recent years there have been fourteen around our table, so we are also doing a Secret Santa. Of course, that doesn’t include other family members that I buy presents for, so Christmas is a well-planned campaign.

I can easily relate our day to a novel structure.IMG_1845

First, there’s the preparation before everyone arrives. The present and food buying are the obvious ones. Then there’s preparing vegetables, setting the table and writing out the times everything has to be switched on or placed in the oven. This is not that dissimilar to planning your novel, with the research, synopsis and chapter breakdown. It’s all in the planning. Fail to plan and you are planning to fail.

Everyone arrives at my house at ten in the morning and an hour is spent catching up with each other; some get impatient to start opening their presents. This is the beginning, our normal life.

The plot really starts as we open our presents, one at a time, in age order, starting with the youngest. There are highs and lows as the presents are opened.

A happy little boy

A happy little boy

There is always the excitement building, before any opening begins. Of course, there’s the disappointment if an item of clothing doesn’t fit and the frantic search for the receipt, which will enable the item to be changed. The happiness when a much wanted gift is opened. Then we have the adults attempting to put toys together for our grandson. One year, nine people tried to breathe life into a blow up goal for a two year old. Now that was funny, but again it had it’s highs and lows as people fell by the wayside because it wouldn’t blow up. Perseverance prevailed and a two year old was very happy to kick a soft ball into a goal that filled my front room.

The darkest moment of the day is when I realise my potatoes are never going to roast and, as usual, I’ve forgotten to cook something. One year it was the Yorkshire puddings, which went down well, as you can imagine. 

IMG_1849The climax of the story is obviously a very happy ending. A good day with excellent memories already stored away, to be told another day.

What will I write over the Christmas holidays? Well, Elaine Everest recently said if you write 100 words a day, that’s 700 words a week, so if you exclude Christmas day, that’s 3,000 words in December. Elaine’s words have made me think, because I often don’t write at all if I haven’t got time to write 500 – 1,000 words, as I think it’s not worth doing. How wrong am I!



Using Building Blocks To…

Elaine chats about building her stories from the very beginning.

Last week, Francesca and I talked about what we automatically put into our writing and also what we leave out. That made me think about my process of working, so I thought I would share it with you.

First, it’s the idea of the story, which often starts off with something vague. As an example, Forgotten Love started as a mother who had wanted to return to education. That brought up a whole list of questions.

Scene Plan

Scene Plan

Why had she left her education early?

Why had she married young?

Why did she want to return to education?

What did her family think about it?

Did they support her, if not why not?

What issues did she come across on her journey?

What relationship issues did it bring up?

How would she cope?

These are only a few of the questions, but as you can see, my vague idea has given me a lot to think about. From these questions came the brain storming, or mind mapping, no matter how ridiculous the conflict might have seemed, it was written on there. You never know where one idea can take you.

Draft Chapter Breakdown

Draft Chapter Breakdown

Once I had chosen my preferred elements of conflict, I then wrote the synopsis, which proceeded to be converted into a chapter breakdown. Excitement buzzes through me as the novel begins to take shape. Obviously there are gaps in my chapter breakdown, but that’s what gives me the artistic licence for my story to evolve.

Part of my process also involves a scene plan. To coin somebody else’s phrase, you know who you are Elaine Everest, this is a shopping list of what each scene should include, as in what I want to happen and what senses could be used. My first draft begins. In the past, I have used NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in November, to write my first draft, mainly because it doesn’t need to be correct. My first draft is just about getting the story written, then I tear it apart and add in the obvious things I have missed out. The five senses, and often description, are the areas I’m usually lacking in.

Forgotten Love Synopsis

Forgotten Love Synopsis

After the editing process, which for me is the longest and most time consuming part of my novel writing, I revisit my synopsis. Maybe I should change that last sentence because my synopsis always feels like it takes forever to get right. To get my story onto one sheet of A4 paper always feels like a mountain I can’t climb, but obviously I do, eventually.

I am sometimes asked whether I enjoy writing and the overall answer is probably no. I enjoy the first draft, getting the story down, but getting it book shaped, as Julie Cohen calls it, I find to be painful. However, it’s like a drug, I can’t help myself. I have lost track of how many times I’ve said that’s it, I am not doing it anymore, but less than an hour later I’m back fighting the demons and getting my manuscript book-shaped.

The question is, am I alone in this? Please tell me I’m not.



Vivien Hampshire considers the importance of choosing the right ending for her novel

It seemed easy enough when I was writing the synopsis.

I had all my characters worked out and I knew, more or less, barring the finer details, what was going to happen to them. But as the opening chapters of the book started to take shape, it all seemed just a little too predictable – and boring. Yes, I know it’s meant to be romantic fiction, and it’s the conflicting emotions and the journey towards the inevitable happy ending that really count but, as author Carol Shields once famously said, “When you write happy endings, you are not taken seriously as a writer.”

So, should I throw in more drama and excitement? Should something happen to surprise or shock my readers, take the story in an unexpected direction, or tug at their heartstrings? Should I be keeping my characters, and my readers, on their toes by not giving them the happy-ever-after ending they expect? I decided to put the whole thing aside for a while in the hope that a different and more unconventional ending might start to emerge. And then it came to me in a flash: My heroine would have to die! Nobody would expect that. David Nicholls got away with it in ‘One Day’ and look how successful that was! I hastily, but happily, rewrote the synopsis, and plodded on.

So, I had a new ending to aim for, but my characters obviously didn’t know that! Somewhere around the 20,000 word mark, they seem to have taken on lives of their own – and they’re rebelling! The girl I was planning to kill, despite her flaws, is just too likeable. Her voice is becoming so real that I can hear it in my head, and I don’t want to extinguish it. My hero, who I had planned should take over the first-person narrative after she dies, just isn’t up to the job, and the ‘substitute heroine’ he was to end up with is turning out to be horrible and hasn’t got a hope of winning readers’ hearts, let alone the hero’s!

What all this proves to me is that it’s just not possible to write a full synopsis and determine an ending right from the start. How can you plan what will happen to your characters until you have got to know them and what makes them tick? Only then can you give them the fate they deserve. And now I’ve realised all of that, suddenly my story has fallen into place. Having played around with the alternatives and made sure there are still a few surprises in store, the latest, and hopefully final, version (incorporating love, loss and the all-important romance, happy ending and all) is shining ahead of me like a guiding light.

And now that I know the ending – the right ending – it’s full steam ahead to get the story, and everybody in it, safely and swiftly there!

 VIV Blog picture Snoopy - the end