Happy endings (no, not that sort. Although mentioned.)

“If you want a happy ending you have to decide where to stop your story – Orson Welles”

I am slightly addicted to twists whether I’m writing a whodunit, a microstory, or any of the other ways in which I kowtow before my muse. The one on the drawing board has several twists. There’s one, though, which turns the whole story from a slightly OTT love story (the alert reader is already saying hang on just a minute) to a slightly creepy stalker story, to abrupt terror. In two paragraphs it goes from mildly steamy (and wildly romantic) to chilling, and I didn’t even plan it that way. I love it, though.

Hence the Orson Welles quote. I could literally stop the story at its happy point and leave most of its readers contented.

Not going to, though. The book in question (and I only say this because I am personally annoyed by dangling hints and coy half-references) is still in process,  The Money Honey, and it’s odd in many ways.

Only once before have I had a young protagonist*, because I find mature characters much more intricate and interesting, but Miranda’s story starts when she’s around twenty, in 1996, and the reader follows her for the next twenty years.

She only came into existence because she’s a large part of the backstory for Seventeen Eighteen Past Lies Waiting, which is being published soon. I wrote her story separately, to get it clear in my head, and then I got engrossed in the challenges it presented. I hadn’t a clue who my target reader was, but sometimes books take on a life of their own and this is one.

There was tons of rewriting for Seventeen Eighteen, as it happened, but the beta readers who have now read both books were pretty positive in their feedback. However, the beta readers who only read Money Honey weren’t. They found the ending, with its sudden introduction of a bunch of amateur sleuths from the Lawns, thoroughly confusing.

By the time that feedback was trickling in, I quite liked my Money Honey but I could see their point, as a stand-alone book she would need an ending of her own. So I borrowed from a few other authors faced with similar situations, and Money Honey has three endings.

Miranda’s whole story is about the unorthodox choices she makes (the working title was Step By Step) so it felt right to let those readers who have engaged with her make the final choice for her.  They will choose whether she calls an old friend for help, which is where Seventeen Eighteen came into the picture – or whether she tackles the situation herself, the way she’s always done – or whether the original storyline from Seventeen Eighteen holds true, but this time she and her son take on the challenge together.

No confusion there, then.  grin

It really has been a very challenging book, I’ve put it aside at least five times and every time it has come yammering after me demanding attention. She’s so unlike any of my other characters, and so very in need of a happy ending.

And yes I know the other meaning of that phrase. In fact that’s why Money Honey is going out under the Clarissa name, not EJ Lamprey. Lots of happy endings, and never, it seems, one for her.

Seventeen Eighteen has finished its rewrites, gone off for editing, started its countdown, and will be out shortly. Oh, and one other oddity – they share the same cover photograph. Slightly different cropping, a lighting difference, but the same photograph. I’m not being cheap, I’m not even being Scottish and practical, I simply couldn’t decide which cover to use it on. It feels right to have it on both.

 

 

*Lucy, in Time Before Time, by Joanna Lamprey

 

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Question to writers – when your guest character’s iceberg is getting invasive, how do you solve it? #amwriting

I’m assuming it’s the same for every writer, that each character is an iceberg, only 10% of them showing in the story but the writer has to know the other 90%, see it clearly, to give that 10% credibility –  not only what they look like, you have to know the main events shaping their lives, how those brought them to the point of your story and made them into the person they are.

Oh, I know in some books that is the story but in whodunits, murder and the solving of the murder is the priority. There simply isn’t the time, and the reader certainly doesn’t have the patience, to delve off into hugely detailed backstory for every character. That’s the huge advantage of a series, of course, but although my main characters can drift amiably through the shipping lanes of the series, each book is stand-alone and has one-off characters.

Those destined to die are easy. Pick out the traits which made them ideal cannon fodder. grin

Those who are to live, but will not become series characters, not so easy. I’ve got an iceberg of note on my hands now, because I’m throwing words at the first draft of Seventeen Eighteen (Past Lies Waiting). My guest character accidentally killed a man when she was in her early twenties, which is the direct cause of her deliberately killing a man in her early forties, and she’s on the run. Her eighteen-year-old son is in direct danger and she ropes in his biological father, who is Donald. So that’s where 17 18 starts (and gets its title) but I’ve never before wrestled with a twenty-years-and-counting backstory.  Tell you what, I never will again.

laugh

To keep her history straight in my head, I kept jotting separate notes, and writing out little scenarios, and populating the twenty years with the people who shaped her into a woman I could identify with,  yet who would kill a man. Eventually I had written nearly more about Miranda’s backstory than I had put into 17 18 itself, and all I needed of it was enough to explain her to the 17 18 reader.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s ten thousand words in my jotted outline and I’ve barely scratched the surface. She fascinates me, she’s taken on a life of her own and that twenty years just keeps growing in my head. Hence the title of this blog.  How do you solve a problem like Miranda, stop her sinking your crisp and tidy whodunit with the massive iceberg she has become?

TV has long since given us solutions – a spin-off – and I’m trying it. As if it isn’t hard enough to write one book, I’m now writing two. At the same time.  Bouncing from one to the other as details need to be clarified and tidied, and trying not to think ahead to the time when they come out of their resting period and need editing . . .  EJ Lamprey only writes whodunits, so Step By Step (working title) will be a Clarissa book, and Clarissa books are a little more, er, worldly. They do have a strong storyline, that’s important to me, so right now the focus is on Miranda’s story, I’ll flesh in the sexier bits on the second draft.

I’ve spent my whole life reading voraciously but I’ve not knowingly come across this solution to the character iceberg before, and I’m wondering how common it is? Anyone?