It’s not often that I write about the writing process but this morning I discovered the central story of Beats, the novel I am writing and wanted to record the moment when it clicked together to make sense.
Note: Beats is the second book in the trilogy of stories featuring DI Frank Lee. The first book Bums was published a few weeks ago, and the third book, Bones, will follow Beats next year sometime.
Yes, so, Beats begins with the discovery of a body – click here for the first 5,000 words of an earlier draft. Yesterday, the current draft reached over 11,000 words, almost 15% of the finished novel, and I thought it was time to work out what the actual plot was. Yes I know, I’d written 11,000 words of something and I didn’t know what it was about!!
The thing is, every writer is different and the same approach doesn’t work for everyone so I’m not trying to write a prescription for writing a novel, just explaining what works for me – and that seems to be that I need to write a substantial amount of the story before I know what’s going on.
It usually starts with an image, like this, from the first paragraphs of Beats:
“. . . Tucked beneath the Orb Stage, in the undergrowth of struts and scaffolding, lay another kind of detritus – the as yet undiscovered dead body of a man in his sixties . . . The body was lying face down in a tangle of wires, a pair of vintage denim jeans pulled down around its knees, exposing a bare white hairless backside . . .”
So, who is this man, what’s he doing dead under the Orb Stage?
And it’s begun.
I already knew that the story was set amongst musicians of one kind or another, and that it was the second book in a trilogy where each book has a story of its own plus a story that spans the three books, so, many of the characters and locations were already defined.
And I already knew that I wanted the book to be structured in the same way as Bums, i.e. the story is told from the point of view of 8 separate characters – that’s 7 plus our hero DI Frank Lee. And I’d already decided that the 7 additional POV characters would not be the same characters featured in Bums.
And, you can’t really introduce a Point-Of-View character without telling their story. So now I had the overarching story of the trilogy to develop, the story of the book Beats itself, plus the stories of the 8 POV characters, nestling neatly inside the arcs.
Bums, Beats and Bones, Story Structure
The challenge was to make it all hang together in a way that made sense, and to make it interesting enough to engage the reader. So I just started writing. 11,000 words later the list of characters in the story, both POV and non-POV had grown enough to fill almost 2 pages of an A4 notebook.
These are the POV characters:
- DI Frank Lee – Our hero – late 40’s
- Old Steve – a roadie – 65/66
- Billy ‘Heartthrob’ Harries – an old rock musician – 65/66
- Lucy – An acclaimed actor and Billy’s ex – 64
- Freda – Lucy and Billy’s grandaughter – 17 year old folk musician
- Tariq – A reasonably successful Indie musician in his late 30’s
- Young Steve – Old Steve’s nephew and a folksy-blues musician in his 40’s
- Lottie – 24 year old singer, songwriter, poet, artist – broke
Names of some of the other characters who have been mentioned or made an appearance so far: Beth, Anwen, Andy, Tony, Guto, Dick Plum, Ffion, Zac, Mack, Lottie’s mother, Lottie, Lottie’s father, Shaz, Flora, Revti, David Roberts, Samantha Taylor, Bob Harries, Rita Mathias, Ernie, Leo, Terry Taxi, Paula.
So when I was writing I had to introduce all those characters and introduce them in the context of the story, and to fit the structure I’d already committed myself to, but I still didn’t know anything about who the killer was, or why he or she did what they did. Then it clicked – I already knew who the killer was and I already knew the motive.
Now all I’ve got to do is to write another 70,000 odd words to tease out that central story, to develop the overarching story of the trilogy and to figure out satisfactory story arcs of the 8 POV characters.
So yes, now I know who done it and why. I’m not telling you though. You’ll have to wait for the book, which I’m hoping to publish next summer.