Monday, 1 September 2014

Writing A Continuity

Today is the first publication day for my first ever continuity. Sleeping With The Soldier is the second book in the Flat In Notting Hill series and it's released today in the UK under the ModernTempted imprint (publication further afield will happen next year).

Writing a continuity book is an interesting process - quite different to the usual solitary way I write - and I thought it might be fun to look back over the time I spent on this one.

A continuity is a series which is initiated by the publisher - the editorial team provide a basic plot line and skeleton background character details, which as an author you then develop in collaboration with the other authors taking part.

I've always enjoyed reading continuities, I really love the world building that comes from having a story arc take place over more than one book, and the deeper knowledge of characters. I never expected to get the chance to write one, so I was thrilled (and a bit nervous) last summer when I had an email from the Editor of the Harlequin KISS/ModernTempted line asking if I'd be interested in taking part in this year's continuity. At that point all I knew was that it had the working title 'Summer In The City' (this was later changed to 'The Flat In Notting Hill'), that it was based in London, and that it would revolve around a group of flatmates. I loved the sound of it right away, but I would have to wait for another month or so before I received the continuity 'Bible' and got to see how the rough background and plot for the four books would look.

I was very excited to find out that the other three authors in this continuity would be Nikki Logan (whose books I'd loved before I ever got The Call!), Joss Wood (who joined the line just before me and was already a lovely friend) and Louisa George (I could remember reading her call story and wishing it could be me!). All three of them are so talented, and starting out, I was terrified of messing it up or having a mid-book meltdown (not unknown), because this time I had them to let down. What would happen if my book wasn't up to the standard of the others?

The Bible dropped into my inbox towards the end of last summer and it was really fun to read. I had a skeleton background of the overarching story for all four books and then the brief for each of our four stories (mine is the second one in the series). This meant I could get a flavour of all the characters, not just my own, which was important because they would be the supporting cast in my book.

This is what it looked like..

And this is my timeline plan, with all the scenes for my story on it...

Those of you who've read this blog in the past will know that I'm a plotter - I like to know exactly where I'm going with a story. If I don't plan properly I tend to throw my toys out of the pram about half way through, when I convince myself that what I've written so far is a pile of crap and I haven't a clue how to proceed. Writing a continuity is a bit of a dream for a plotter. No need to stress about how the character conflicts worked together - they were already laid out for me by the brainstorming editors. Settings, relationships and backgrounds? A skeleton description was given of those too. What I did need to do was work out how the plot would develop in terms of scenes. How would these two characters get to know each other? What happenings could I come up with that would best show their conflicts and problems? And how would my plot affect the other books and vice versa.

I started with my characters. I was given basic information - I knew my character's names (although I could change them if I wanted to - none of that was set in stone), and roughly their ages. I started a Pinterest board, which you can see here, and then I swapped details with the other three authors, who needed to know what Lara and Alex looked like for their scenes in the other books. It also meant we didn't end up with two characters looking too much alike. We also collaborated on the appearance of the shared settings in the books - for example we discussed possible interior and exterior photos for the Old Fire Station block of flats, and for Ignite, the cafĂ© downstairs where scenes take place in all four of the books.

Then I looked at the skeleton description of backstory and present day situation that I'd been given.
Lara's background, for example, is a solitary one. She's been through the foster care system as a child and has come out the other side totally self-reliant and utterly focused on making her own security by using her talent for sewing. She runs her own boutique lingerie business and has managed to secure a pop-up shop in Notting Hill. She rents a tiny studio flat in the same building as the other girls in the continuity. I knew all these things about her before I started writing, but I had the freedom to flesh out her character around these bare bones and really put my stamp on the story.

I drew a few key scenes from the details in the Bible, and then added in my own scenes around them to develop the story in my own way. And the funny thing was that for all my angsting before I started out, it actually turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had with my writing and one I would jump at doing again if I got the chance. It was great to be able to brainstorm with the other three authors. Writing is quite solitary for me - just my kitchen and my laptop most of the time - and it was fun to play around with the character and story details. When all four of us had finished our full drafts we were able to tie up details across our books so the overarching story worked as well as the four individual standalone stories.

I really love the way my book turned out and I hope readers enjoy the series.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of continuity stories? What is it about them that you like or don't like? I'd love to know.