New Year, New Feature, The anatomy of a novel.

It’s a new year and a new feature for this blog.

Today, in my first post in what I hope will be a new venture, I’d like to give you a behind the scenes look at the birth of a new idea. Who knows, it could even be the start of a whole series.

Regular readers will know that I usually write as it happens; as if I’m watching a film in my head. All that I normally need is an idea to set me off. From that, I get a sense of the beginning and I’m away. The plot unfolds as I watch the action on the screen just behind my eyes. I can pause and rewind it to make sure that I get everything down. The one thing that I can never do is fast forward, I never have any idea of what will happen before it does.

This idea came from a short piece that I wrote to include in my World-building course. It was only a few simple paragraphs, meant to illustrate a relationship, suggest a past connection and show how to use dialogue and description to create backstory, without writing pages of boring prose.



Here it is, exactly as I wrote it.


The shot rang out and concrete was chipped by my head. “Come on,” gasped Lydia, grabbing my arm, “run!” 

I was dragged down the street, in and out of the shadows cast by the flickering lights, “keep your head down Dan,” she said.

“It’s just like on Gallix,” I managed to wheeze as, bent double; I followed her around a corner. Out of sight for a second we dodged into a dark alleyway. There were no more shots, but we could hear running feet and shouts.

“When we had to get away from Kalindra and her boys,” she finished while I tried to fill my lungs. “I had to save you then.”

“I thought that I saved you?” I replied.

“In your dreams.” We stood in the dark and tried to get our breath back, shrinking into the darkness as two men, guns held in front of them, ran past us. The blatant show of weapons reminded me that I was out of my depth here, far from my old stomping ground. They probably had the local law in their pockets, we were the outsiders.

 I was getting angrier and angrier with Fliss Bauer, back on Gallix. ‘It’ll be easy,’ she had said, ‘just get in and do this for me, it’ll wipe your slates clean’.

And we’d believed her. 


The idea

was just to create the piece as an illustration, to get people talking, I never meant to use it in any other way than as an example of how to be effective in few words.

But then…, it happened. I think it was a result of my self-imposed ban on new material whilst I sort out my marketing plan. A bit like damming a river, the water just wants to get out somewhere else.

I started getting flashes of the lives of Dan and Lydia, of what had led them to that alley, of what they had done before, what they might get up to next. I couldn’t help it, I started writing the thoughts down.

Here they are, I’ve rearranged them into a kind of chronological order, although for once they didn’t come to me this way. I guess that it was because I had seen a mid-point in the narrative, all the action before it was available to my mind in any order. I don’t know, the more I try to explain it, to myself or others, the crazier I sound. It’s better just to go with it, accept it as normal for me and move on.

There are still gaps and places where expansion is required but I have enough to make a start. For some reason, I see it as very film noir, even though its very futuristic sci-fi. Think Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow meets Indiana Jones with a touch of the style of Casablanca.

Here’s my current version of the plot

The Plot thickens

Dan is a hitman, a contract killer working for Fliss Bauer. She’s a mob boss on Gallix, a rich planet. When we meet them in the extract, he had been sent by Fliss to assassinate Kalindra, a rival gangster who runs a prosperous but less attractive planet. Dan’s in the last chance saloon, having failed to kill Kalindra in a hotel on Gallix. Fliss regarded her unannounced visit as an insult, coming to Gallix was seen as a declaration of her intent to muscle in on what she regards as her home turf, hence Dan’s attempt.

Lydia is a small-time thief, who was at the hotel to rob the rooms. She ends up in Kalindra’s suite, not knowing who she is. She is working alone, she disrupts Dan, he is about to silence her but has no chance. They are discovered whilst arguing about who is going to do what. Lydia is against Dan killing Kalindra and tries to make him change his mind, while he just wants to get the job done. He’s quite willing to kill her as well, as long as it aids his escape. All he really wants to do is go for a beer.

There is a chase and they manage to get away, both claiming to have been the one to save the other. To avoid capture, they are forced to embrace and pretend that they are lovers, not criminals. Lydia also sends the chasers away with false directions.

Dan and Lydia get to safety, where they are met by Fliss, who is extremely annoyed that he has failed to finish off Kalindra. He blames bad luck, she sees Lydia with him and decides that it’s all her fault. She is going to kill her but Dan intervenes, pleading for another chance.

Fliss sends them to Kalindra’s homeworld; Fallop, to finish the job. It seems that she has lost faith in Dan. If Kalindra is killed they both live, if they get anything of value as well, that’s a bonus for them. Fail and they can never come home. Forced to work together, they set off.

And that’s where we came in, with the pair hiding in the alleyway.


That’s as far as I’ve got,

although more details are coming to me all the time. I think it has the potential to develop into something, at least a short story, if not more.

Let’s recap on what we have; a chalk and cheese pairing, two people who work alone and have been forced to join forces to survive. I have an interesting premise, a pacifist thief and a hardened, cynical hitman who is starting to question his life and his boss. There may be a conflict, is Dan going soft because of Lydia, is there some attraction? Plus, I have two godmother figures, each with their own agenda. At stake is control of all criminal enterprises on both planets.

The question I’m waiting for the voices in my head to answer are about what happens after the extract.

Will Dan and Lydia succeed, how will they fare, will they stay alive?

Which crime boss will be left standing? Is there good in either?

Will Dan and Lydia fall for each other?

Will they succeed, and even if they don’t; what would that mean?

I reckon that there are at least 20,000 words of narrative in the notes that I’ve written above. Once I fill it out and get up to the point at which the extract takes place, I will just have to wait until I get the next bit.

Stay tuned; as the story develops, I will be posting updates. I might even make it into an episodic post, maybe once a month or so as the full tale reveals itself.

Next time, we’ll see how I’m getting on with fleshing out the plot up to the time we have already reached, where our heroes are hiding in the alley.


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