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Monday, 10 December 2012

Organising the Novel

There are probably as many ways of novel writing as there are novelists.  I know what works for me, but I also know some very competent writers who approach the craft in completely different ways.

One thing I often get asked is how I do it.  So, here’s my approach…

Firstly, how long does it take me to write a full novel?

The writing takes a year.  Before that, it’s three to six months in planning, and about six months for revising and rewriting afterwards.

The writing and revising are probably obvious, but what about the planning?  What takes me up to six months?

Well, I’m a compulsive planner.  I plan in detail.  I’m scared, for example, of writing a wonderful novel, getting to the last chapter, and then not being able to work out how my hero gets out of the mess he’s in.  I admire writers who have the confidence to work like that.  Here are the various things I do to make sure that doesn’t happen to me.

1.  Characters.  I want to write a bit on characterisation in a future article so this will only be brief.  In summary, I know my characters before I start typing the story.  Most of my novels involve groups.  As well as names and appearance I have to know how they get on with each other and in particular any tensions that have an effect on group dynamics.  I also find it useful to give each character an individual turn of phrase so they are recognisable without having to use a tag.  An early critiquer for ‘The Wood’ remarked on how well I managed characterisation.

2.  Setting and research.  I usually write about things I’m familiar with – Celtic history and myth, for example.  That doesn’t rule out the need for research, and to know my setting, though.  While I hope I have a broad knowledge I usually have to do quite a bit of reading on the particular myth I’m using.  I also research the historical location I’m using.  Google Earth is a great help, and so is visiting locations.

3.  Plot.  Have I mentioned I’m a compulsive planner?  This is probably the area where I spend most of my time before I start on the story.  First, I write a rough outline of perhaps a page.  This gets refined and lengthened to a few pages.  Eventually, it’s a full chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the novel.

Then I’m ready to go!  Writing the novel takes about a year.  There are constant revisions throughout, particularly to my plan which as every novelist knows needs constant change.  My plan, therefore, is liable to updates – sometimes after every chapter!

And I must mention Phil, who gets to see every chapter and suggest changes, or – with luck – give it the okay.

Revising takes the next six months, although I do edit to some extent as I go along.  I don’t polish until I’ve finished, though, as often something will happen in the story which will mean going back and tweaking earlier events.

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