Sunday 29th April 2018

Planning a novel

Writing novels takes time. A lot of time. It’s not something that can be rushed. Just writing the words, spoken by the characters, takes a good deal of patience and effort, to get right. A novel is a work of fiction. It is a creative endeavour that requires imagination. The writer is telling a story. That story has to be thought up. Thought out. Thought about. And then there is the research. My guess is that I spend about the same amount of time doing research as actually writing the text of the book. That is because I have to get the ethos and milieu of the period right. My novel is set in the years 1967 through to 1971. Even though I lived through those years, I cannot remember everything about them. What I have forgotten is how people talked. The vernacular of everyday life. The words and phrases that were used. That is not something that was written down at the time; not even by me. Little remains of the way I spoke; even though, a great deal remains of the way I wrote. The way we wrote differs from the way we spoke. Both then and now. It was during those years that my command of written English grew and developed.

Keeping track of everything

The art of writing involves sitting at a desk with a typewriter, or a word processor, and putting into words whatever comes into your head. That seems like extemporisation. Some authors might work like that; I have too, in the past. Today, writing is more likely to be planned in advance, than it was in the past. As I work through a novel, I have to record timelines and characters. The timelines ensure that sections appear in the right order, chronologically. Let me explain. I did not start writing at the beginning. Ideas came to me in somewhat of a random order. I then spent a lot of time trying to reorganise my sections and pieces so that they flowed from day one to the end. Day one happened to be 1st May 1967. That was the day when Adrian arrived in London. The story started from that point. Later, Adrian explains why he left home and moved to London. The other characters did the same; they explained why they were in London and what caused them to leave home.
Characters were thought up right at the start of the work. As I wrote, new characters had to be invented. I set up a page in which all the characters were listed by name, with a brief resume of their appearance, key facts about them, such as their age, and any notes that would help me to achieve continuity as I wrote about them. I decided that I did not want to have more than one character with the same name. My page of character profiles ensured that I did not use a name more than once.

Keeping to schedule

One thousand words a day was the target I set myself. I write daily. Including weekends. Having a target of writing at least one thousands words a day, was useful. To see how much I had written, I set up a separate document, at the top of which, was a field that displayed the number of words in the document. It’s a fairly standard feature of most word processing packages. Apart from writing new material – in this special document that I called a scratch-pad – I also went back through the manuscript and corrected it and proof read it, sometimes reworking whole sections. Nothing unusual about that. I started by having one document for the entire book. That proved unwieldy and stressed the resources of my computer. The book was divided into three parts (which I called Acts.) Each part covered a defined number of years. That made the management of the files a bit more easy. The drawback was that I had to know in which file a specific piece occurred. If I wanted to go back over a certain event, I had to know which of the files it was in. That meant I had to compile an index – a listing of sections. Each section was assigned a unique number. The index gave the number of the section. Using the ‘find’ button I would instantly get to the piece I wanted to see, providing I had a unique serial number for it.

In case this sounds rather complicated, let me explain that the way I wrote the novel was somewhat chaotic. For any particular year, I might compose a section using the scratch-pad document. That then had to be copied into the relevant file and put in the right position, chronologically. Other authors may, I am sure, find this a rather laborious way of doing things. For now I am stuck with it. But, it works for me.

It is all about method

I am a devotee of the method school of writing. This is how it works. I write a piece (also called a section.) When I have done as much on it as I can (no piece is always finished) I leave it. I go and do something else – the washing up, feed the cat, make a coffee, vacuum the carpet.) I go back to the piece and proof read it. When I am satisfied with it I read it aloud. I read as though I was an actor saying the lines on a stage or for a camera. If the piece flows as reading, then I am satisfied with it and I print it.

It is a peculiarity of this novel that it reads like a film script. That is the style I have adopted for this work. It has to work well as a script and it has to explain what is happening, where that is no obvious from the dialogue.

Some previous posts in my blog

22nd April – Should novels have plots?

25th March – Writing about characters

18th March – The swinging sixties

11th March – What is masculinity?

See the home page for my blog

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