Friday, October 05, 2012

Writing a novel diary: Part 3

Before I sit down behind my computer and start frantically typing out the 100,000 or so words that make up each of the Ethan Warner novels, I like to be certain that I have a plan that I can follow. I'm not the type of author who can sit in front of a blank screen and just start typing. Much like Frederick Forsythe, who at last years' CrimeFest in Bristol revealed that he plots and plans for months before writing, I love having an ABC guide that keeps me on track during the process.

To this end, I write three final documents:

The first is my Chapter Map. Using my ( often copious ) notes gathered over many weeks or even months, I start with Chapter 1 and write a brief, succinct line about what should happen in that chapter. It's usually just a few words, and I sometimes will add a few more in red pen if there's something important that must occur which has major consequences later on in the story. These are my plants and pick-ups - information given to the reader, sometimes very subtly, that come into play much later. Sometimes it's a red-herring, other times it's something that's said or done that must occur in order for other later events to make logical sense. For instance, if Ethan realises that a vehicle is about to blow up, he must logically at some point already have learned that there's a bomb on board.

The Chapter Map usually covers about 60 chapters or so, written on a couple of sides of A4 paper. Although as the novel is written and re-drafted this map may change, it serves as a vital guide that prevents me from waffling on to long or losing my way in the plot.

The second document is my Character Map. For each character in the story I write a short paragraph that describes their nature and motivation within the story. As I write each chapter of the novel, I refer to these notes depending on who's appearing in the relevant scenes. This provides consistency in the way characters in my novels act and speak, ensuring that they are all as distinct as possible from each other in the reader's mind.

The final document is the Synopsis. Many authors hate writing a synopsis, especially those who don't like to plan ahead too much. But for me it serves two vital purposes. Firstly, because a synopsis should flow like a brief version of the story it can often highlight errors in logic or scenes that perhaps stretch the reader's imagination too far. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it provides an update to my agent and editor, giving them a detailed account of how the final novel will appear and the chance to raise any questions or doubts they may have about the work.

I write my synopsis in the same manner as the novel: double spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point, and try to keep it about 12 pages long. It's not easy to cram an entire novel efficiently into such a small space but the final product can often be as tense, interesting and gripping as the final novel. It's a case of bringing all of the energy and interest you're hoping for in the final work and distilling it into a single, short document that should entice and excite anybody who reads it. Think of the movie trailers you see at the cinema: although a synopsis should not be overblown like a movie trailer, and should remain a logical blow-by-blow account of the story, that doesn't mean it can't be an exciting read.

With the synopsis done and a thumbs-up from my agent and editor, it's time to sit down and get writing! In the next post I'll reveal a few of my tips and techniques for dealing with motivation, discipline and further ways of avoiding writer's block.


Rebecca Alexander said...

What a fabulous post...I started out just writing, then deconstructing and completely rewriting novels, but I am gradually doing more plotting up front. I shall have a go at your system.

V. L. Buckland said...

How very thorough! This is an excellent way to begin a story. It's nice having notes to return to in moments of confusion.

If only life itself were that easy! LOL x

Dean Crawford said...

Thanks ladies, hope my method helps your own novels! :)