Creativity comes from limitations, while the white page actually terrifies writers

There is a common misconception among non-writers unfamiliar with how writers work that writers pluck stories from their brains wholesale–the entire concept just appears in their minds and they record the mental dictation.

I honestly wish it was like that.  Except, once, it actually was for me.  The entire story for Eva’s Last Dance came to me one sleepless night and the next morning I got up and wrote it out.  Only, even then, it didn’t just drop into my wired, insomniac brain.  I laid for hours, bolting the details together so the story hung properly and wore a nice set of clothes.  But the concept (the skeleton) was right there, whole and complete.

The actual process of creating a story is far more prosaic, long-winded and sheer hard work. 

Staring at a blank screen or page with no idea about what to write is a terrifying thing.  A blank screen gives the writer carte blanche to write anything at all.  So where does one start?  And if I write a paranormal romance, with a hero like xxx, what about the SFR story over there with xxx in it? 

It’s a bit like being in a candy store stuffed full of delicious treats, with a nickel in your hand.  What do you pick?

And what if you pick wrong and it doesn’t taste as good as you’d hoped?

On the other hand, setting up some limitations about the story helps the writer form ideas.

Think of it this way:  A whole candy store to buy a nickel’s worth of candy is overwhelming.

But what if there were only three pieces of candy in front of you, all worth a nickel? 

That makes the choice far easier.

It works this way with creativity, too.  As soon as someone (including the author herself) says:  “You have to write a story that is only xx,xxx words long; it must be paranormal romance, with a single hero and heroine, set on present day Earth, and he’s a vampire.  Go!

And suddenly, the ideas start to form.  Well, if he has to be a vampire, what if she’s a werewolf?  Or an angel?  Or…no, let’s say she can cure him…!*  Or perhaps…she’s a vampire, too, but a different caste, and they’re mortal enemies…  Who would be the worst person for him to fall in love with?????

{*actually, as soon as I wrote that, I thought “oooh, that’s an interesting idea!”.  Then I realized, I’ve written that story already.  Which is why established authors often spend so much time developing concepts–they have to discard everything they’ve done before.}

And so it goes.  Building a story is done (usually) a single decision at a time.  Sort of like building a frame house–only there is no set order in how the lumber is put together.  I can build the story roof first, then figure out where the studs have to go to hold it up.

And my lord, I am mixing metaphors today!!

With the sixth book in the Adelaide Becket series, I had limitations to work within.  Most of them come with the fact that this is the sixth book in the series, and the characters and their arcs are established.  Most of the series storylines are also set. 

But I added even more limitations with this story.

One of them was that I wanted this story to have a Christmas theme.  I’ve grown aware, over the last few years, that I have very few Christmas themed stories, and readers seem to enjoy them immensely.  So, for once–no, actually, this is the second Christmas story, because I wrote a short contemporary romance for the Christmas Romance Digest 2021, and just remembered it.  Wow!  No Christmas stories, then suddenly two in one year!

Anyway, I wanted The Salinghall Error to have a Christmas setting, because of the release date.  And I wanted Adele, the heroine, to go home for Christmas so readers could see where she comes from. 

I also wanted Adele to make a mistake.

Yep, I wanted her to screw up.  The series is set in Edwardian Britain, when women were just beginning their decades long campaign for equality and the right to vote.  Adele started the series full of doubts about her abilities as an agent for William Melville, hunting down German spies in England.  Through the stories she has become gradually more confident, to the point where she demands equal consideration from her co-agents…and gets it.

So it was appropriate that now she slips and makes a mistake…which tempers her growing confidence, and makes her question herself all over again–at least, she will in later stories, which just might be her saving grace, because over-confidence can be as fatal as the lack of it.

The result of all these limitations was The Salinghall Error, which was released today on all bookstores, everywhere, in print and ebook. 

Lady Adelaide closes in on the German spymaster called the Doctor…

Lady Adelaide Azalea Margaret de Morville, Mrs. Hugh Becket, leads an operation to recruit a potential double agent with a connection to the Doctor, with Torin Slane, the Irish professor and Fenian, and Daniel Bannister, Baron Leighton, to assist her.  All three work under the cover of the traditional Salinghall Christmas Eve Ball, which Adele’s family has attended every year for decades.

But returning home for Christmas, after eloping with a commoner many years ago, comes with complications, including her judgmental and difficult father and her trouble-prone sisters.

Only, the real trouble comes from a completely unexpected direction, putting Adele on a collision course with the Doctor himself…

This novelette is the sixth in the Adelaide Becket Edwardian espionage series.
1.0: The Requisite Courage
2.0: The Rosewater Debutante
3.0: The Unaccompanied Widow
4.0: The Lavender Semaphore
5.0: The Broadcloth Midnight
6.0: The Salinghall Error
…and more to come.

A historical suspense espionage novelette.