Friday 1 April 2016

Ready ... Steady ...

I am feeling nervous. New job nervous. Like, you know you can do it, but will you be able to just go in there and do it right away, and what if you’re wrong, and actually you can’t do it.

This is clearly ridiculous.

I haven’t got a new job.

No one’s watching me. (Except YOU. Are YOU watching me?).

I’m about to do something I’ve done lots of times (but in a different way).

Today I am going to stay with my lovely writer friend Gill. We are planning to spend the next three days writing. There’ll be some walking and eating and talking too, of course, because otherwise we’ll go mad or get bored of writing (imagine!) and also what’s the point of being with another writer if you can’t spend ages moaning about how terribly difficult it is and cheering each other on.

I will not be writing.

I will be planning.

I used to write notes in fountain pen!
I’ve been dipping my toe in around the edge of this book for a long, long time. My first research notes are TWENTY years old. I’ve been pushing the idea around all that time, flicking it away when something else came into focus, then, more recently, letting it in, just at the edge of my vision, finding myself writing a snippet as an exercise in my writers’ group, wondering how the plot would work in my wakeful hours, letting my half-awake brain write the odd 500 words of it when I wasn’t sure what else to write for my daily writing target. I have a plan with some big holes in it, I have nine and a half thousand words that might possibly appear in the finished book and might just be playing around. I’ve been reading (possibly too much) about how to plan and structure a work of fiction – something I’ve never done before despite having written … several novels already (vagueness due to the fact that it’s hard to know what counts: two published, three works-in-progress which are full length but still need work and a flawed book I wrote for my children which could be salvageable). 

I could have started last week. I’ve had no work and no children to take up my time and my head-space. Instead I’ve been reading and reviewing books. I’ve been emptying my mind. 

I’m ready to take the plunge.

So this is the plan of what I am planning to plan (sorry, couldn’t resist).

1. First, I’m going to work on a single sheet plan outlining the movements of the plot. This will be the Master Plan. I’d like to get it complete before I start anything else, but I suspect there will be holes I can’t fill and I’ll just have to write things like ‘and then this gets resolved/more complicated’. The point is to have a skeleton on which to hang the more detailed planning.

2. I will write character notes. This is something I’ve only done once before and it definitely helped, particularly with the minor characters who seemed to spring more fully formed to the page, even when the details I’d worked out were never explicitly mentioned.

3. I will start a scene-by-scene plan of the book, filling in first the details from my Master Plan, adding the scenes I’ve already written if they seem relevant and working around these until I have an outline of the entire book. It is likely that this plan too will have bits that say ‘and then this gets resolved/gets more complicated’.

I’ll use a calendar to date each scene; this is the one bit of planning I’ve always done because I find it helps to ground the book in reality, and also, for me, it helps with pace. And I don’t end up with five day weekends or two Thursdays in a row.

4. I have no idea how long all this planning will take me. In an ideal world, I’ll come home on Tuesday morning with every scene mapped out so that my 500 words a day for the next few months will get the book written.

But, should I find that it’s Sunday night and I’ve finished all this planning, with a whole day left to play with, on Monday I will be attempting to write a Master Plan – or even a vague sketch – of three further books about my character. Chances are, I won’t get to this, but I do intend to do it soon as it seems only sensible to see the series in terms of a whole and make sure that I’ll be able to extend and reflect on things I’ve included in the first book later on.

Here goes!


Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction 
for children and young adults. 
Her latest YA novel is How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French?

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