Mystery author Rebecca James takes readers behind the scenes for a look at how she created her novel, Beautiful Malice. Learn what made writing this novel such an adventure for the author and don't miss the excerpt at the end of this post!
I started Beautiful Malice with the first sentence.
Of course you did! I hear you protest. Where else would you start? Isn't that where every book begins? Well...yes and no. The reader usually starts with the first sentence but the writer may not. Some authors start a book with an idea, a story, a plot, others start with a certain character or two. Still others might start with a place. All I had when I sat down to write was a very vague desire to write about toxic friendships -- and then I wrote the first sentence:
I didn't go to Alice's funeral.
I had no idea, when I wrote that sentence, where my story was headed. I had no idea who the characters were or what was going to happen to them. The narrator was a girl called Katherine who didn't go to Alice's funeral. That's all I knew. I didn't know, in the beginning, what Alice had done to Katherine or why Katherine hated Alice so much -- but she did hate her, she said so in the very next line.
I was pregnant at the time, crazy and wild with grief. But it wasn't Alice I grieved for. No, I hated Alice by then and was glad that she was dead.
Apparently Katherine hated Alice so much that she was glad that Alice was dead. That's a lot of hate. Alice must have done something very very bad.
But I, dear reader, had no idea what that was - I had to write the book before I had any answers. Basically, I didn't know what happened until it happened. Writing Beautiful Malice was just as much a process of discovery for me as it is for the reader.
Apparently this is quite a common way to write. The writer just sits down and writes without having a very clear idea of the plot and lets the story have its way, so to speak. Potentially, I guess, the author could end up with a very big mess on his or her hands, a complicated jumble of a story that doesn't make much sense at all - but many people think that this way of writing allows the subconscious mind come to the fore. And when I think back to the way Beautiful Malice worked out, the way all the story elements combined to make some kind of narrative sense without me consciously thinking about it very much, I'd have to agree.
Interestingly, in writing my second book, Cooper Bartholomew is Dead, I have taken a much more structured approach. I’ve had a much clearer picture of the entire plot in my head from the beginning. I’ve known what was going to happen to whom and when and why. I’m not sure whether this is because this book is contracted to publishers and I’m too scared to take the same relaxed lets see where this story goes approach I took with Beautiful Malice - or whether it was a more organic change - simply a matter of different book, different process. But one thing I do know is that I’d very much like to write a book with the same feeling of freedom I had when I wrote Beautiful Malice, that same trust I had in my subconscious mind, my own innate story-telling ability.
And if you can’t think of a mind-blowing plot for your book I suggest you give your subconscious mind a chance to shine. Just sit down and write. See what happens. I bet you surprise yourself.
- Rebecca James
Do you have a favorite first line of a novel? Tell us in the comments below.