I first met Jane Jackson in person just last Monday night, at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards evening in London. It’s always exciting to meet authors you’ve only met online, and I wish I’d had more chance to chat with Jane (who was shortlisted for an award). However, serendipitously, she was already scheduled to appear on my blog today, so now is my chance to get to know her a bit better!
Welcome to my blog, Jane. You’ve been teaching the craft of novel writing for more than twenty years. So now I’m going to pick your brain! Tell us the secret, in 500 words …
I prefer books that are character-driven. Of course a plot is important, but if I don’t feel emotional involvement with the main character – male or female – I won’t read on. To make a reader care, the writer has to be totally committed to the character and what she is trying to achieve. (I’ve used ‘she’ rather that ‘he/she’ for ease of reading) What follows is my checklist when I begin writing a new book.
What is the story about? Summing this up in a sentence (!) helps me maintain focus.
What does my main character want? It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering as long as it’s important to her. She will face obstacles – some major, some less so – along the way. The outcome should be uncertain right up to the final pages. Will she, won’t she? And if she doesn’t achieve her objective, what does she gain instead?
What holds a reader’s attention and emotions, is living through successes and failures with the character. But you won’t know how she’ll deal with what’s thrown at her unless you know her. What is her backstory? What baggage is she carrying? How does she see herself? If life has been easy for her, how will she cope if she loses everything she has taken for granted? If life has always been a struggle, how will she react if she suddenly comes into money or someone offers help?
Much of what you know about her will never reach the page. Like an iceberg, the nine-tenths beneath the surface supports the one-tenth that’s visible. It’s the hidden part that will tell you how she’ll respond to challenge. Does she think things through, or act on instinct? Is she confident or fearful? Generous or selfish? Shy or outgoing?
What matters most to her? Take it away. What is her worst nightmare? Make it happen. How will she cope?
Write from inside your characters. In real life the only way we know what someone else is thinking or feeling is by watching their facial expression and body language, and listening – not just to what they say, but how they say it. Picture ‘How lovely to see you,’ said through gritted teeth.
What will happen if your character doesn’t succeed? High stakes = tension = a reader who won’t want to put the story down.
I start my story at a point of change. Something happens that jolts my character out of her normal life, forcing her to take action. Readers prefer characters who make decisions, even if they are the wrong ones. Her choices and their consequences will drive the story forward. They may help her towards her goal, or slam a door in her face, forcing her to find another route. Adding a time-limit increases tension.
The character will be changed by the things she experiences. This means her responses to events will alter. So by the end of the book she will be a very different person.
Wow, Jane, that was really useful! I’m heading off right now to put this into practice. Thanks – and congratulations, again, on the nomination.
Jane says: I have lived in the same Cornish village nearly all my life.
My first book, a romantic thriller, was published in 1982. After four medical and ten contemporary romances for Harlequin as Dana James published worldwide I began writing longer historical romances. Of the fourteen published as Jane Jackson some remained Cornwall-based, others – set in the C18th and C19th – ventured to foreign shores while maintaining strong Cornish links. After joining the RNA in the early 1990s I reached the shortlist for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award with Eye of the Wind in 2002, and was shortlisted for the Historical Prize in 2010 with Heart of Stone. The fourth of my ‘Polvellan Cornish Mysteries’ series written as Rachel Ennis will be published in April.
Teaching the Craft of Novel Writing for over twenty years from Ad. Ed. to MA level has been both a pleasure and a privilege. Ten of my former students are now multi-published novelists.
The Consul’s Daughter
When Teudar Bonython, shipyard owner and consul for Mexico, falls ill, his 21-year-old daughter, Caseley takes responsibility for the shipyard, the consulate, and her father’s health. But as a young woman in Victorian England, she must hide her involvement in a world dominated by men.
Not beautiful, Caseley has resigned herself to a life without love…until she encounters Jago Barata, half-Spanish captain of a Bonython ship. Jago is fearless and determined, a brilliant sailor. He’s also arrogant and unnaturally perceptive. Love is the last thing on Caseley’s mind as their every encounter sets her and Jago at each other’s throats.
Just as she thinks he is out of her life for good, Caseley must deliver vital documents to Spain on behalf of her father. It will be a journey filled with intrigue and danger – and the only ship leaving in time is Jago’s. He demands her trust. But dare she risk her father’s good name, and her own heart?