My plan was my lifeline – Fiona Harrison

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By Fiona Harrison

Every writer hears the same thing when they’re trying to craft a novel; write about what you know. That was my problem, I didn’t know anything. Sure, I’d seen and done things, but what did I actually know? As a national journalist I’d met lots of other people who knew things. And they had been kind enough to tell me about those things, but that was the trouble, it was other people that knew things, not me.

Then, a couple of years ago I had a light-bulb moment when I realised the thing I knew about was emotion. I had over a decade’s worth of putting myself in someone else’s shoes and putting their joy, sadness, triumph and fear on paper.

So I delved through my cuttings and just as I hoped, they were filled with human experience. But reading about other people’s lives got me thinking about my own, with one moment clearly standing out. It was the time I had adopted my cat Pico from a rescue centre. I had stood in his ‘room’ and tried to tell him I would love him and look after him. Of course I had no idea whether he understood, but suddenly, that age old writer’s question sprang to mind … what if?

An idea was born, there was just one problem, I had never written fiction before. Being a journalist, I was a cold, hard facts sort of girl, now, not only did I have an idea for a novel, but I wanted to write a book from a dog’s perspective! Was I crazy? pug-like-percy

I felt daunted. A journalism piece is usually no more than two-thousand words, whereas a novel is quite a bit longer. Then I realised there were quite a few other differences, such as with an article, you research the story, know the characters, and how it’s all going to end. I knew I could never be a writer that sat there and made it up as I went along, I needed a plan. So I did some research as if I were writing a newspaper story, developed a synopsis and then created biographies for my characters, just as if I had interviewed them.

The pressure lifted, and I began to see that actually there were many similarities between writing for the press and fiction. I still had to tap into the characters’ emotions, create natural dialogue and pace the piece in a way that flowed, and would resonate with my audience.

Once I understood all that, the words poured out and I wrote my first draft in four months. I’ve no idea if book number two will be so easy to craft, but what I do know is, my plan was my lifeline and it’s a method that might help you if you’re struggling to get started.

After all, we may not all have experiences like the characters in books, but no doubt we have all experienced emotion which isn’t a bad place to start.


Fiona Harrison is a dog lover and writer from the West Country with fifteen years’ experience as a national journalist, frequently writing for all the women’s magazines and has also taken on ghost-writing projects. Now married to a fellow animal lover, Fiona lives in Berkshire and is focusing on her two passions; animals and writing. A Pug like Percy is her first novel.

fionaford.co.uk

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