Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Pre-Writing Method

I only know the method of writing that works for me and that method changes with every project. My first detective novella, The Fatal Payout, was written with very little pre-planning. I had a sketchy plot skeleton with a few names and that was it. For me, I found this quite inefficient for writing detective novels since the writer needs to be firmly in control of the plot or they will find that they’ve written themselves into a hole where they either can’t justify the ending or they’ve made it too obvious and the reader will be disappointed.

With my next three detective novellas each became progressively more pre-planned. When I started my first romance, Kwaito Love, I had come to the decision that pre-planning would work well for romance too. Again just like in a detective novel, I feel the author needs to keep a firm hand on the plot and the characters so as to build up the romantic tension at key points. I’m not sure how writers who don’t pre-plan do this. I’d be interested in knowing.

My pre-planning includes an A3 size general plot map, character bibles, usually an A4 for each character, then chapter synopses and occasionally an A3 calendar if time needs to be kept very clear as part of plot tension. The decisions at the beginning are not written in stone though, if I find as I start writing something else works better I change, as can be seen by the crossing out on the character bibles in the photo above. I do all pre-planning by hand in my terrible, and degenerating handwriting.

I found a new trick that is proving helpful as I begin my new romance, He Can’t Be the One. I wanted to see my characters more clearly so I paged through magazines and newspapers until I found them. I cut out the photos and stapled them to the respective character bible. I’ve found this very useful as I write.

I’m not sure how I will proceed when I start my next project which is not genre but literary; the book I want to work on during my residency in Egypt. I feel a bit as if literary fiction might need a freer reign as it is less about plot and more about character, but I find as I’m thinking about the project I’m already writing things down. I’ll have to wait and see.

How do you approach your projects? Is it always the same or does what you’re writing affect the process? I'd love to hear about it.


Anil P said...

Using A3 and A4 page layouts is interesting as a method. Enjoyed reading about the process you use to write.

Unknown said...

I´ve just been reading through your blog and have found it so encouraging.
Being a complete newbie I don´t have a method yet. I´m pretty chuffed if I get anything on to paper at all. I know it should be a pleasure, but at the mo it is still so scary.

bonita said...

First, I slog around old books and the internet to find a hook I like. Then, like the mathematician lounging on the couch with her eyes closed who insists she is working...I find all sorts of meaningless activities to do while I 'write in my head.' Then a sketch (it can hardly be called a draft!). Next step is probably = to your notes. I hand edit—expanding, contracting, overhauling, reorganizing as needs dictate. Then I write. If there's time, I put it aside for a day or two. Then revisit and polish. (okay okay, sometimes when I revisit I rewrite or even ditch altogether...yetch perhaps my method is not as useful as it might be!

Lauri said...

Anil- I have an obsession with A3 paper when I'm planning any writing project- including scripts. I feel the size opens my mind. I'll go to A2 when I get and office of my own and a big table.

Margaret- Everyone find their own way and I'm sure you'll find yours. My small advice is don't try to be perfect- no one is. Just write and write and read and read. Nothing to be afraid of- words hardly ever bite. Ha!

Bonita- I think my obsession with efficiency if part of the issue for me. I can't bear to write another novel that will remain unpublished and for me this method seems to produce books that work.
Anyway -we all find out own method- mine keeps changing too.

Miss Footloose said...

I've written 32 romance novels and tried every method in every book and what works for me is probably hopelessly impractical and unprofessional but it's how I do it:

I start with an idea and a first scene or chapter. I know the end (don't laugh, yes they get each other but HOW?)

As I write I get other ideas that will fit in and they just come up. They also pop up in my imagination as I cook or drive or shop. I write them down. Sometimes I end up with entire sections, scenes and conversations that happen later in the book and that I am then writing towards.

I think they call this method "organic" rather than pre-organized by outline and synopsis. I hate outlines!

The pundits say this is not the way to do it, but it works for me.

Of course, if you write mysteries you'd better be organized!

Elspeth Futcher said...

I write mysteries as well, and I have found pre-planning is vital. Without it, you can't hide the clues properly, let alone add in all those wonderful red herrings. I'd be lost without the planning. I know I'd be writing in circles.


Lauri said...

I'm curious Miss Footloose- how do you ensure the pace of the romantic tension? I'm finishing On Writing and he is very against my method of plotting. He is more like you, starts with a situation and then lets the story grow. If I do that I find myself in frustrating dead ends. I feel safer with a few plot points to guide me.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I love that title! I write literary contemporary fiction and I visualize the characters in my mind's eye from the get go. I like to write up a description, (even if I'm not going to include it in the narrative), and I write up background info, (whether or not I use it.) I usually have a loose plot mapped out but don't always keep to it 100 percent.

Lauri said...

Elizabeth I never keep to my plot either- I scratch out things and add. Even the character bibles- I change my mind about things along the way and the characters reveal things about themselves as we move along. That's the exciting part about the writing. That's where the story takes control.

Gutsy Living said...

Attending conferences and listening to some famous novelists like Jane Green, I keep hearing that they let the characters guide them and write the story. Also a famous screenwriter today, Dean Develin, (Independence Day) said, he recommends writing the first draft extremely fast. Do your reaearch later, just write very fast.