Story Behind The Story: The Girl Who Died Backwards Part 2

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Alright, so here we are again with Part 2.

Just as a reminder, this post WILL spoil The Girl Who Died Backwards… so only read after you’ve read the book!

I focused mostly on the story last time, so this time I’m going to focus on two characters that emerged as I wrote the book. One of them is the mysterious Lord Ashmore. I knew I wanted a main villain for the book who would continually plague Grace & Witherbloom by seeding these anachronistic devices around the world. This was to be the main thrust of the series of stories, in fact.

When I write, I can’t really plan too much out. I have an idea of where I want the story to head, the basic plot and a solid grasp of the characters. I do a lot of writing in my head before I ever get anything typed in. But I can’t get too specific or fill too much out or I fear getting bored with the story and abandoning it. I feel a little bit less like that now, having been through this process. But that’s how I felt back in 2008 as I started writing The Girl Who Died Backwards. So, Ashmore was just a vague notion of a character. In fact, in the original draft of the book you only heard about him. We never actually got to see him “in person” as we did in the final book. I added the coda with Ashmore years later after I’d finished book three and decided I really liked with “ending” with him in the early books. I’m happy with the final scene. It does a lot to set up Ashmore and the entire series (including the finale!) in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.

Of course, even at this point I didn’t know much more about Ashmore other than I planned him to be handsome, charming and very mysterious. But that’s all I needed to know.

Whereas Ashmore had been planned from the start of the book, just sketched in very roughly, Wilhelmina was a very late edition. I had written the opening of the story, set in the shadow of The Great Exhibition. I have always had a fascination with the Crystal Palace, The Great Exhibition and World Fairs. The whole concept, the artwork depicting them and the posters have always intrigued me. I really liked the start of the book. I think it’s a great introduction to the characters, and I like how they just sort of breeze into the scene and start causing trouble from the start. I realized I needed a maid character to let G&W interupt Bradford’s presentation. So I had an older maid named Francine do it. Francine opened up the door, and promptly went away.

I had gotten a little past the point where Helen is refilling Josiah’s water reserves when I began to think about maids. Gray haired Francine was a nice stock character to pull out to open a door. But I thought she was a little boring. And I didn’t want the start of my story to be boring, even if it was just the character who opened the door. So I started to think of other maid characters I had liked, and I remembered Gwyneth from the Doctor Who episode “The Unquiet Dead.” I instantly liked Gwyneth (as many did, and it’s down to Eve Myles’s winning performance as much as anything) and I decided I wanted to steal her basic plucky character to open my door for me. Her name would be Wilhelmina. And she would open the door and go away as Francine had done. But she’d be a bit mousy. And she’d have a bit of business where she’d save Bradford’s machine from being destroyed. But she would go away.

Then something odd happened. Wilhelmina would not go away. I started to think about the fact that I had jettisoned Kathy from the story after the web comic fell through and how I no longer had anyone to ask dumb questions. Josiah doesn’t know everything Helen does, but he knows a lot. If it was just the two of them alone, you couldn’t get a lot of those questions that arise for the readers answered without some unnecessary extra work. It’s not that I minded doing a little extra work, it’s just that I don’t like exposition to “show” too much and I like it to be delivered on the fly and as economically as possible. So having an audience identification figure that could be introduced to the world of G&W and ask the questions we might ask just made sense.

And then… well, then I had an idea for Wilhelmina that made it absolutely imperative that she was there. Suddenly, she wasn’t just an interesting addition to the book. She was essential to it. Sometimes you’re writing and things just sort of happen and you think “Oh yes… oh yes this is it! This is how it was meant to be all along!” Wilhelmina’s creation was such a moment. But we’ll talk about that more once we get to the final book, shall we?

So, I finished the first book. I read it over and over. I gave it to a couple friends to read over. The first section was done, and I quite liked it. I’d go back and tweak this or that, but for the most part the book was published much as it was first written. The notable exceptions were the addition of the scene with Ashmore, and the way I handled labeling the time jumps. I was really afraid of the time jumps being confusing, so I went through several concepts before settling on labeling each new time jump as “Day 1” or “Day 5.” Hopefully those ended up being helpful. Now, it was time to write the second story.

I had the story all figured out. It would be adventurous, and take G&W from the foggy streets of London to far off Tibet! It would see an old genre mainstay reinvented in a (hopefully) novel way. And it almost caused me to abandon the entire project…

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