By Vanessa Pesa
In a blog that posted March 9, we heard from Janice about how hard it was to transition from nonfiction to fiction because, as a journalist, nonfiction has really been her mainstay.
I wanted to tell you more about how she transitioned to fiction for her second book, Unleashing the Sun, particularly as it regards plot and character development.
Janice, of course, started off with a rough sketch of the story: Two people fall in love, and in the process, they change each other; he makes her a stronger, more independent person, while she makes him someone who can be tender and compassionate.
She was stumped midway, though, with how the story would end. “What came to me is pretty wacky, but I like it,” she told me.
She was interested in seeing my reaction to it, and now that I have fully digested the manuscript, I can honestly say that the ending completes the novel in a way that works for the characters. I won’t give away anything more than that!
She came upon the idea by thinking about what she wished would happen in this relationship, and then started seeing all of the awesome things that could come to fruition.
This reminds me of a certain “what if” mentality that Stephen King has referred to; he has always said, when developing any strong story from a foundational concept, to take the idea and ask yourself, “what if?” and absolutely run with it.
Janice has been “what iffing” for some time now.
Character development was also a challenge all on its own.
Janice started off with real people and real events, but once she realized she had to move away from nonfiction pretending to be fiction, she took a step back and worked on character development. What would these characters look like?
This often led her to seeing actual people in her life, which she would then combine with traits she had imagined.
There were certain necessary truths that she wanted to include about her characters, certain qualities that were a must, but the process of creating details was a blending exercise of real and imagined. A minor character, for instance, might look like a lawyer Janice knew once, but the things he said and did were fabricated. The result was a wonderful fusion of reality and imagination, a merging of things she had seen and things she had envisioned, which has been the most fun of the entire process for her.
Once she had the two main characters she began to branch out to the secondary characters in their world; she says, “It’s been cool to play with imaginary people, it’s like playing house.”
Janice is on a roll with this kind of work now in the book. She is reading through it and fleshing out characters’ appearance and dialogue, and this all, in turn, continues to fuel the plot, although the end has not changed since she wrote it many months ago.
On making time to write, Janice says that, while Beetle Press keeps her busy, she tries her best to carve out time. When she first started the book, she would begin each day working on it for 30 minutes. Though, that 30 minutes would soon turn into an hour, then into two, and would slowly consume her entire day, and she would end up working late into the night trying to catch up on actual work. Now she is much more organized; on weekends she works on the book for a few hours, and often times will block off time in her datebook as well.
She finds it helpful to go somewhere else to write also, so the scenery and atmosphere feels different. This winter, she went on a writing retreat for an entire weekend with her friend Judy, who happened to be housesitting at a location with a fireplace.
Talk about setting the mood to write!
Janice also let me in on a little secret…she’s already thinking about a third book! But I won’t get into that just yet. Let’s just focus on polishing Unleashing the Sun and getting it picked up by an agent first!