My novel is based on a true event during WW1 when my grandfather’s ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat. In assignment one, I began with the family’s norm before the drama. After drafting the first chapter, I realized the beginning was too flat and I needed a hook. Therefore, I decided to swap chapter one with the chapter I wrote for my assignment two. As Bell says, ‘The hook is what grabs the reader’s attention… [writers] figure we have to get the readers seeing the location, then the characters… Don’t fall into this trap. Readers don’t care about the natural order if they are intrigued’ (2004:121).
Assignment two replaces chapter one and introduces us to Bill and Grace as they are dealing with trauma and crisis. We are thrown into their world where Bill has been traumatised by the war. Then, to increase the drama, their second child dies. Bell explains that ‘…very early on in Act 1… something’s got to happen to make us feel there’s some threat… happening to the characters’ (2004:27).
Along with Bill’s reaction to this drama, I built his character through his physical appearance. Because it is an action-packed section, I added descriptions of Bill in portions rather than one big section. For example, when he woke from his dream, he ‘climbed into his trousers and drew his jumper over the mass of curls on his head.’ Setterfield describes Lily simply as ‘a stubby figure, clutching a coat about her, [who] scurried in the direction of Radcot Bridge’ (2018:106). The course book, Starting a Novel, explains: ‘Great nineteenth-century novelists often spent a paragraph painting a detailed character sketch… But for today’s reader, it’s best to avoid such static descriptions. It pauses the action and diminishes the narrative drive… ’ (OCA,2018:46).
As I learned to create characters, I decided some characters were minor instead of major, such as Natalia. She interacts with Arthur later in the novel, but does not move the story on. In this section, Grace is a secondary character (deuteragonist), but later on she will have her own story to tell. However, this will not happen with Natalia as she is not directly affected by Bill’s trauma. As King says: ‘I had located the fossil; the rest, I knew, would consist of careful excavation’ (2012:193).
My tutor showed me how to stay with Bill’s point of view. For example, when Bill woke, I wrote, ‘Bill woke up from his dream screaming and grasping for air’, which sounded like it was the viewpoint of a person watching Bill. In order to keep with Bill’s point of view, I changed it to ‘Bill woke with a jerk and found himself sat up straight.’
In my reflective commentary for assignment two, I mentioned that I had experimented with first person, but forgot to mention that I decided to stay with third person limited. My tutor pointed out that I was writing in third person. I mention this because I want my tutor and the assessors to know I understand the difference between first and third person. I mainly decided to stay with third person because if I wrote the story in first person past, the reader would know whether Bill survives or not. Also, Bill has difficulty with intimacy and first person creates a closeness between the character and the reader that would not would work for Bill. Cowan explains that ‘One of the main effects of first person point of view is to… draw the reader into a relationship of apparent intimacy with the “speaker”’ (2013:132).
Bill’s life is based around water – living near the Thames, being a barge-builder, and being in the navy during the war. I enhanced this fact by introducing fantasy characters that help or hinder Bill, based on Scandinavian folk tales about a sea creature, and used watery imagery to describe them. In the early drafts, a policeman guided him to the hospital but I changed that to a man whose ‘…green coat swung around his body and the mist sat in droplets on his sleeves.’ The Snow Childis set in Alaska’s cold landscape. It is not clear whether the child Faina is a fantasy or real but Ivey uses chilly imagery to describe her: ‘There was something otherworldly in her manners and appearance, her frosty lashes and cool blue stare’ (2012:105).
My research included ships during World War 1, and hospitals in the 1920s. In The War at Sea, an armed merchant cruiser is torpedoed by a U-Boat. A Sub-Lieutenant appointed to the ship describes the attack: ‘Suddenly we were all startled by a shout from the starboard look out, “Submarine on the port bow”’, and there was my first sentence (Thompson,2005:160-161).
Assignment four describes Lenny’s funeral and Bill fleeing the cemetery during a flashback. Bill disappears later in the novel and this assignment gave reasons why he would disappear.
After the funeral, which is slow-paced with the characters being sad, the story changes to a fast pace with Bill running and upset with some interior monologue. This develops the character but also, I wanted to encourage reader interest. The course book, Starting a Novel, explains that ‘You don’t want to have a series of exciting, tense scenes at the start of your novel, and then have all the tension and excitement fizzle out leaving 200 slow pages’ (OCA,2018:107).
Bill’s character also develops through speech. He is the strong, silent type so his dialogue is short or he just nods. I strengthened his interactions with Grace because she is chatty and this helps develop Bill’s character. At the end of assignment four, Grace is upset and her dialogue is sometimes about six sentences long, whereas Bill’s dialogue is often one sentence. When Grace is trying to persuade him to go to the doctor, his answer is only that ‘“They’ll send me to the nuthouse.”’ Fletcher uses dialogue to develop Clara’s character. Clara is inquisitive and direct. For example, when she first meets Kit, she asks him about the Pettigrews. He asks her why she is asking about the Pettigrews and she answers, ‘“Because I want to know”’ (2018:119). Cowan explains that ‘…Lodge describes quoted speech as “the purest form of showing” because it allows fictional characters to exist on the page in all their particularity and individuality…’ (2013:103).
Having attempted to create dramatic tension, my tutor suggested I consider the length of a sentence – longer sentences slow down the pace and shorter sentences speed it up. In assignment four, I lengthened the sentences in the funeral, but when Bill was escaping from the car in the cemetery, I made the language more succinct and the sentences shorter. For example, as he was rushing through the cemetery, during the flashback, I wrote: ‘He could not breathe. He felt strong hands around his throat. Men cried out for their mothers. It was dark.’ In The Road to Grantchester, Runcie uses short sentences after Sidney’s friend Robert is killed and Sidney continues to fight with wild abandon: ‘When he finally gets back… he can’t keep still. He is shaking. He cannot stop. He looks for his friend’ (2019:69).
As Bill is leaving the cemetery, he has a panic attack: ‘With his lungs closing off, he felt like he was facing an abyss. He breathed heavily and felt panicked.’ My tutor commented in her report that ‘I don’t get this here. Did you mean that he felt breathless? But he’d stopped running and rested on the bench.’ So I researched panic attacks. It seems that panic only became a disorder in 1980: ‘Panic disorder first appeared as a specific diagnostic entity in 1980, in the third Edition of “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM III)’ (pubmed.gov,1996). Therefore, I could not say he was having a panic attack. I decided to reorder the words, so that the beginning of that paragraph started with ‘Panic grew within him and he felt like he was facing an abyss.’ I thought this showed he was having a panic attack and that was why he breathed heavily.
In assignment five, the reader is introduced to the possibility of Bill going to the U.S.A. when he reads a letter he has received from an old friend. Also, after talking about the war with a man he met in Covent Garden called Jim, he considers committing suicide, which gives another possible reason for his disappearance. My tutor calls this causality – cause and effect. Woolf uses causality to develop Septimus Smith who suffers from shell-shock. Early on, we see his fragility when he looks at a stopped car and thinks ‘The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames’ (2013). Then later, we discover that his doctor thought he was healthy, which was obviously part of the reason Smith did not recover and killed himself: ‘For Dr Holmes had told her to make her husband (who had nothing whatever seriously the matter with him…) take an interest in things…’ (2013).
The discussion with Jim shows how Bill suffered during the war and also that Bill thought he had killed his friend. Jim is also another incarnation of the fantasy sea creature, but as a hindrance rather than help by being manipulative – encouraging Bill to talk about his story, get upset, and consider suicide. I had difficulty making Jim sinister without saying ‘he was sinister.’ In The Girl You Left Behind, the Kommendant is sinister. It is disturbing how kind he is to Sophie before he takes what he wants. He tells her ‘“I am a good man, Sophie… It is important to me that you understand that. That we understand each other”’ (Myers,2012).
Part five of the course considers techniques for finishing the novel. Most of my novel will be written in third person past but I am considering using first person present for the last part so that we can get close to Bill as he changes. In The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, the first main character had lost his memory and first person present brought the reader closer to the character, and also showed that the character knew as little about the developing story as the reader (Turton,2018). As Bill loses his memory, that technique could work. Also, Cowan discusses John Fowles’ novel The Collectorwhich has three parts: two in first person past and one in first person present. Cowan states that ‘…a large part of the tension and tragedy is created not by what they say or do but by something more technical than that: by the temporal disparity in their respective points of view’ (2013:130)
This section also discusses pushing form. I decided to write this novel chronologically with each part told by a different character. When I have finished this novel, I will experiment with moving parts around. The Bindinghas three parts (Collins,2019). The first two parts are from the point of view of Emmet. The last part is from the point of view of his boyfriend, Lucian. We learn more about Lucian when he tells his story. Also, it is currently fashionable to have each chapter from a different character, like The Girl on a Train, which is written from the first person point of view of three women (Hawkins,2015).
Because this is a sad story about how lives are affected by war, I chose to use a tone that shows the gravity and sorrow of the story. I show this in many ways, but especially in assignment five when Bill considers suicide. While this is a dark novel that includes a fantasy element, and the tone is sad and tragic, the tone is not disturbing and grotesque like The Clocks in this House all tell Different Times(Brooks,2017). Both stories are about how the Great War destroyed more than the men that fought but the tone is different in each tale. Turning to voice, this is something I have difficulty with. I understand what voice is and can hear it in other authors, but I cannot hear my own voice, or even understand what that is and how to develop it. However, through this class, I have noticed that I write about serious subjects and my voice tends towards a serious tone. I am not sure if this is the beginning of my voice, but I hope to develop this more in my next class.
Reviewing my work, I removed adverbs, some adjectives, and clichés. For example, I removed the following sentence because it is a cliché: ‘That night, Bill was looking for shelter from his storm.’ Reviewing each assignment has slowed down my momentum. I have finished drafting Bill’s story and moved on to Grace’s, but because of the constant reviewing required for this class, I obsessively try to find the right words. Although, I have learned from this intense revision, I will not revise the rest of my novel until I have finished the first draft. Smiley says: ‘I advise against rewriting… The desire to get each scene ‘just right’ works against productivity because it allows you to get in the habit of ruminating upon your self-doubts’ (2005:220).
Research for this assignment included Covent Garden in the 1920s. For this, I visited Covent Garden, searched for history online and read Covent Garden Past(Richardson;1995).
During this course, I have learned how to plot a story so that I now have a completed synopsis. My knowledge on how to keep with the main character’s point of view, dialogue, and controlling tension through pace has improved. I now have the tools to continue writing and complete my novel.
Bell, J. S. (2004) Plot and Structure. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.
Brooks, X. (2017) The Clocks in this House all tell Different Times. Cromer: Salt Publishing Limited.
Collins, B. (2019) The Binding. London: The Borough Press.
Cowan, A. (2013) The Art of Writing Fiction. Abingdon: Routledge.
Fletcher, S. (2018) House of Glass. London: Virago Press.
Hawkins, P. (2015) The Girl on the Train. London: Transworld Publishers.
Ivey, E. (2012) The Snow Child. London: Headline Publishing Group.
King, S. (2012) On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Myers, J. (2012) The Girl You Left Behind. [Kindle edition] From: Amazon.co.uk (Accessed during December 2019)
OCA (2018) Creative Writing 1: Starting your Novel. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Pubmed.gov. (1996) Panic Disorder and Panic Attack. At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9138941 (Accessed on 9 December 2019)
Richardson, J. (1995) Covent Garden Past. London: Historical Publications Ltd.
Runcie, J. (2019) The Road to Grantchester. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Setterfield, D. (2018) Once Upon a River. London: Transworld Publishers.
Smiley, J. (2005) Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. New York: Random House, Inc.
Thompson, J. (2005) The Imperial War Museum Book of The War at Sea 1914-1918: The face of battle revealed in the words of the men who fought. London: Pan Macmillan.
Turton, S. (2018) The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. London: Raven Books.
Woolf, V. (2013) Mrs Dalloway. [Kindle edition] From: Amazon.co.uk (Accessed during December 2019)