Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Planning a book


I was at a dinner party with friends at the weekend and talk turned to the fact that I have a book coming out this spring. Several of my friends then said, "How did you start writing it? Did it just all come to you or did you plan it all out?"

I've seen lots of different articles on this and writers seem to fall into two main camps: those that plan meticulously and those that fly by the seat of their pants and just write.

As you might have guessed from my post about planning 2016, I'm a planner rather than a seat of the pants lass! That said, I've run the gamut between barely planning anything (the novel ended up 180 000 words long and soggy all over and may never see the light of day) to planning a book so much that there was no mystery left and I never wanted to write it (I have a full notebook on my shelves with meticulous detail about pretty much every scene and only about 2000 words of the book actually written)!


Obviously, neither extreme works for me! I don't want to have to edit 180 000 words of sogginess and I don't want to plan all the fun out of writing the book either! I think I've managed to settle on a happy medium (I think!) that works for me, that's reflected in the quote above.

The first thing that comes to me is usually the plot, or at least the bare bones of it. It's a fairly basic route map and one that rarely makes it unscathed through the rest of the process. That's because once I think I have the plot (although plots can be slippery beasts that wriggle away from you!), I start to think about the characters.

I'll devote next week's post to how I develop my characters, but I end up knowing more about some of my characters than I know about my friends! I know every little detail about them, much of which never makes it into the book. I can't hope to know how my characters will react to the situations I'm going to throw them into unless I can get into their heads, and I can only get into their heads when I know huge levels of detail about them.

After getting to know my characters, the real fun and journey of discovery begins! I start to put my characters into different situations and see how they react. They don't always react in a way that's consistent with my original ideas for the plot, but that's okay. Working out how to get the characters back on track whilst staying true to their character is  where much of the fun lies!

Key scenes laid out
with 'in-between scenes' in columns beneath
Once I've got a sense of how the (new) plot is lying, I sketch out the key points of the plot and write them up on 5x7 inch index cards. These get laid out across the long edge of the dining room table. I then work out what needs to happen between each of those key scenes - what vital bits of information do the characters need to know before they get to point X etc. - and weave those into the scenes in between the key ones. An outline of these 'in-between scenes' get written on 4x6 inch index cards and laid out on the table in a column under the key scene.

This helps me in two ways - one, if there's a massive gap in the plot, there will be a dearth of cards! Secondly, I colour-code different strands of the story or different points of view, and a preponderance (or lack) of a colour helps me to balance things up.

I then use old diaries to map the scenes out, to help me get the dawn/dusk/weather etc. correct as well as ensuring that someone doesn't discover something before it has happened!

Once I have the majority of the scenes sorted, I start writing. Because I know what should be happening where and when, it means I don't have to write the book in order, and because the scenes are largely skeletal in outline, there's space to change things as I write.

Having had disasters with both too much planning and too little planning, I'm hoping that I've now found a Goldilocks system of just the right amount of planning! There's enough to know where I'm going, but with the potential to make some discoveries on the way.

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