I’ve published 4 books, but I’ve just handed in the structural edit on my 5th, and am up to the final draft on my 6th. This is not a position I ever really imagined I’d be in, back when I was writing book number one. If I had been able to glimpse the future, there are a few things I would have liked to have known—saving the good names being chief amongst them! Here are a few of the lessons learned from writing those books.
Save the Good Names
There is a finite supply of good names, especially male names! Therefore, you should never ever waste a good name on a secondary character.
Of course I never thought of this. I picked all the best names and passed them out with the same abandon that supermarkets give away plastic bags. Now though, as I have to name a new set of characters each year, I’m starting to regret my largesse. Because I’m running out of names!
I’ve just had to, in the structural edit of The Paris Seamstress, rename a quite important secondary character. I really like her name and I realised as I was editing that I like it so much that it might be a good name for a main character in some future book. So I can’t afford to waste it on a secondary character! The poor women has, overnight, had to get used to a whole new name.
I am going to be much more careful with naming my characters from now on.
If Only There Were More Ways to Fall in Love
A couple of years ago, someone said to me something about romance tropes. I sort of knew what they meant—that there are a number of familiar ways in which a hero and a heroine might get together in a book. Love at first sight, friends to lovers, forbidden love … Then I ran out of ideas.
Being the curious person I am, I googled it. I was gobsmacked. Who knew there were so many different ways for couples to fall in love? But as I looked down this list and this one too, I realised that most of these I would never be able to bring myself to use. Mail order bride? Boy meets ghoul? I just can’t see it happening in my books.
I’ve realised that my books are either love at first sight or the slow burn. Yes, I do this slightly differently in each book, but that’s what it boils down to. A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald: slow burn. Her Mother’s Secret: love at first sight. The Paris Seamstress: you’ll have to wait and see!
Hopefully I can keep doing enough variations on those two themes to keep me going, otherwise don’t be surprised to see a mail order ghoul in the pages of a future book!
If Only There Were More Ways to Keep Couples Apart
Given that there is a love story in each of my books, this is kind of important. Because if the happy couple meet, fall in love and live happily ever after by chapter three, it’s going to be a very short book. Which means that I have to keep coming up with different ways to keep them from getting together for a long enough time that it maintains the narrative tension.
I’m only just now beginning to realise how challenging it’s going to be to keep doing this in book after book. I mean, how many believable ways are there to keep two people apart who want to be together? Hopefully more than my poor, tired post-structural-edit brain can think of right now.
The Challenge: To Consistently Write Good Books That Aren’t All the Same
I’m also starting to see how incredibly challenging it must be to consistently write good books that are different enough to the other books you’ve written that readers won’t feel like you’re writing the same book over and over again. And I haven’t even mentioned plot ideas: how many different things can I find for women in history to want to take on in the face of society’s disapproval? Surely I’ll run out of ideas at some point?
So, if you’re just starting out with writing, save those names! And if you’re a voracious reader and you have a chance to meet the author of a book you’ve really enjoyed, let them know. It’s amazing what a difference a little bit of positive feedback can make to a writer who feels like all her heroines in the future are going to be nameless, plotless and loveless!