Writing a novel is a form of insanity. The novelist sits alone for hours on end playing with imaginary friends. When a person goes to a medical professional complaining of voices in their head, they are diagnosed and medicated. But for the writer there is no cure from the addiction that is writing fiction.
Yes, I'm a novelist and I spend the vast majority of my time in imaginary places with imaginary people, some of whom I consider friends and others not so much. No, it is not reality, but during the period of writing the story, the more real it is to me, the more believable I can make it for the readers. When I'm in what I call 'the zone', I am completely unaware of the reality that is the material world of flesh, blood and other matter. In 'the zone' I'm completely immersed in my imagination. And, strangely, in 'the zone' is when I feel most alive. And this is why writing novels, for me anyway, is addictive.
Some authors carefully plot each movement the characters make before fleshing out the scene with the narrative and dialogue. That is what I would refer to as a plot driven story. Many thriller writers employ this method. Although I like writing a thriller, my stories are character driven, which means the characters are making the decisions as to how the story unfolds. I simply write what I see happening. Yes, I have a say in what happens. I'm the one that sets the stage, but it is the characters that people the stage who write the story, because it is their interactions that dictate what happens next. I watch it all as if I'm watching a movie in my head, a movie I can rewind as much as I like. For me, this process makes writing effortless.
When I explain this, people invariably say to me, "But you create the characters to play specific roles?" My answer is always that I create the main protagonists initially, but the characters I create very quickly evolve into their own selves. And they do change from the character I had initially intended them to be. Other characters walk into the story as and when they are needed. I meet these characters for the first time in very much the same way I meet strangers in real life. These characters walk into the story complete and speak for themselves and I get to know them through their interactions with others and their dialogue, just as the reader will get to know them.
But of course there's still a lot of work to do. Every author has to be disciplined. There are no short cuts to finishing a book. Real life permitting, I sit at my desk every morning and target getting so many thousand words down on paper, metaphorically speaking, as everything is done electronically these days. I'll usually have scribbled down notes during the night as I see the scenes written the day before from different perspectives that reveal new potentials I feel I need to add to the scenes. So I start at around seven in the morning by combing through the previous day's work and invariably I add material and delete material and sometimes I need to go back further to add a new thread much earlier on to offer motive to something that happened. By the time I've finished combing through I will be back in 'the zone' and with the characters up and running again, it's time to capture the next scenes and when something happens to pull me out of 'the zone', such as a tap on my shoulder by a lover urging me to finish because she wants some attention too, I'll be surprised by the time. Often it is ten at night...
The Drama Merchant below is published by Wales Press.