Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ghostwriting adventure!

Since I'm doing just this at the moment, it may be of interest to let you know how I'm finding the task.  I'm creating a fictionalised biography for someone who wanted it to read like a novel.  It's an odd sort of experience in several ways.

First, I am working from life memories.  We spent two or three days together while the subject gave me the life story data and I typed like mad on my Alphie (Alphasmart computer).  There are also lots of news cuttings and a couple of background books for research.  Back home, I transferred everything to my PC and went through it to find the holes.

The first thing I realised was that I needed more of the subject's emotional life.  Without that, I couldn't create a novel style book.  Back I went with a whole heap of questions and the subject talked some more while I typed.  Then I had to interweave this new stuff into my original text.  The deadline then shifted two months forward from December to October and I blanched.

At this point, I said I really had to start writing or I'd never make it and I couldn't know what was missing until I got going.  And off I went, taking each episode and turning it into scenes.  Immediately I discovered I had to invent dialogue.  I sent back the first chapters to check the subject was happy with what I was doing.  Turned out it was more than satisfactory.

But wait!  Now the deadline shifted again - another month forward to beginning October.  Argghhh!!  So I then went hell for leather and am now a quarter of the way into the story.

Next problem to come up was anomalies in the timeframe.  I'd been given conflicting dates and found I had developed the story in an incorrect sequence.  Back to the subject again to confer.  We talked it to and fro and decided dramatic style was more important than the exact sequence.  In other words, I was allowed to use artistic licence.

It's actually quite fun doing this.  And not much different from writing an original novel, except that I've got to stick closely to the outline.  Having a free hand with the dialogue and the subject's thoughts helps a lot.  From what brief comments I've been given on emotions, I'm able to work up a whole internal monologue to fit.  And as it's written in first person, I haven't got to worry about other viewpoints.  Everything is subjective to the subject's opinions and feelings, and everything is guesswork about what others are thinking.

I don't really mind that the deadline is so tight because it will free me up to start on my own third detective novel as soon as I'm done.  Plus I write best - as I'm sure I've said before - when I write fast.  No time to dither or worry about the quality of the writing.

My verdict on ghosting?  As long as it's using my fiction skills, bring it on!


  1. This was really interesting, Liz. My agent suggested a ghostwriting company for me to look into (whilst playing the waiting game re my own books). Unfortunately, I can't remember for the life of me the name of the company. At the time, I didn't so much think, ooh, no, I'd much rather write my own stuff, so much as, was I up to the task. You've made it seem a lot less scary.
    Thanks - and good luck with this and your own upcoming! :)

  2. Thanks, Sheryl. This one came in via a friend some years back, and I happened to call the subject at the right moment earlier this year. Maybe the ghostwriting company is an agent?