PART ONE; THE PLANNING
A while ago I put out a tweet on my account asking if anyone, anyone at all, would be interested in live updates about what the process of writing a novel looks like start to finish.
Well, the answer was yes (as you can imagine, given you’re reading this now), and I’m a balls-to-the-wall kind of person…
So here it is; ground zero; that moment when you have an idea, and literally nothing else. For me that idea, that concept, consists of three things;
- Sight (an image in your mind, or in the real world)
And it looks like this;
I suspect I’m neither unique, or unusual in this, but I’ve never seen anyone talk about how to turn these things specifically into a workable plan for a novel or short story. Here’s how I begin; I write down that concept, the sight, sound, smell, and taste of it. Even if it makes little sense, even if it sounds like I’m describing a painting; I get it on paper. This is the first step.
Then I add to that with working titles, genres, themes, potential plots and sub plots. The end result is a messier version of this;
From here I move on to what I call the “mini-snowflake”.
I’m sure you all know what the snowflake method is and so you probably have a good idea of what the mini-snowflake is, but I’ll explain anyway. The mini-snowflake is a replication of stage 2 of the full method applied with the idea of helping to create a concrete idea of how to progress before you start planning in earnest. Start with a single sentence which explains the premise of your starting point, then follow up with a paragraph which explains the rough trajectory of the middle, and then finish with a sentence that gives a rough shape to the end of your story. It could look like this;
Now, at this point most people would go into a full blown snowflake, right? Well, not me amigos. If that would work better for you, and you fancy following my advice, then crack on, but I go to characters next. Stephen King once said that you’re either a planner or a pantser by nature, though most people have a little of both, and I’m a pantser. I fly by the seat of my characters pants, though, not mine, and so I fill out my protagonist and antagonist, along with any main characters, before I do anything else. Now, this is where you might think it gets weird; my character sheets are reminiscent of D&D, but I promise you they work. Well, they work for me.
Interestingly enough this similarity predates my jump into D&D. If I’m honest it comes from playing RPG’s like Dragon Age: Origins, Oblivion, Skyrim, and, of course, older offerings. Here’s what my character sheets look like;
The idea is to build a character type that can deal with the obstacles in their way, but not with consummate ease. By setting things like skills (for example research, literacy, two-handed weaponry… it all depends on your genre), feats (passive qualities which can be improved with work, e.g. strength, flexibility, intelligence) you can get an idea not only of how they will react, but what they can do. Likewise, by setting things like their drive (the over all goal that pushes them through life), and their short-term goal (the thing motivating them through the story), as well as the overall ideal to which they subscribe you can begin to build a relationship with your character.
Of course, that’s a different process for a different day.