Novel Writing – Back on Track (again)

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Obligatory Clichéd Track Photograph

This is one of my weekly updates on the progress of my debut crime novel, Safe Hands, about an ageing safe cracker forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts.

In last week’s post I laid out the reasons for my poor writing performance (lack of planning) along with some idea of how I was going to turn things around (making a plan). Seems obvious and simple, because it is, really.

And it worked. I definitely achieved a whole lot more in the last 7 days, than the previous week. Did I achieve everything I wanted to and spend all of the time I’d alloted? No. But I was pretty close and I’ve got 1200 new words down and a lot of restructuring done.

Aside from the extra planning, the other reason for the improvement was linking up with writing buddy, Maria Smith. Our mid-week check-in by email really helps us both to stay on track. You should definitely follow Maria’s journey over at First Draft Cafe, where you can also pick up loads of tips and inspiration to help with your writing.

That Was The Week What Was

Here’s how I got on compared to the objectives I set . . .

  1. I will complete the structural overhaul – specifically removing all of the chapters that will now not make sense in the current draft.

COMPLETED FOR FIRST DRAFT. I cut thousands of words and a number of redundant sequences of the book.

  1. Based on the critique received from my writing group on the opening chapter, I will complete the edit of Chapter One.

NOT COMPLETE. I’m saving this job for the next phase of edits.

  1. I will write a brand new chapter, containing the minor character I feel is now needed to flesh out the back story of my antagonist, but to also add more tension and conflict to the main narrative.

NOT COMPLETE BUT . . . Instead I wrote 1200 new words of a key scene in the novel, between Mickey and his son. The location of the original scene was changed and I did a complete rewrite from scratch. The initial response from my critique group was positive and I’m confident that the novel will benefit from the new chapter.

The Week Ahead . . .

I’ll try something different this week and will share with you my target for the amount of time I will spend on the novel and just give a general overview of the areas I’ll be working on. I’ll spend a minimum of 3 hours on the novel – aiming for six 30 minute sessions over the course of the week. This was my target last week and I finished 30 minutes short of my target.

In terms of the areas I’m working on, I’ll definitely attempt the chapter that introduces a brand new minor character. This isn’t some arbitrary decision based on wanting to write a new person into the story. It came from the work I did recently, using character monologues – specifically the monologue I wrote for my main antagonist, Graham Southey. The new character arose as part of his backstory and will now allow me to more elegantly solve a narrative issue I picked up in the read through of my messy first draft. I need to illustrate the extent of Southey’s dark side and just what depths he is capable of sinking to. It should add extra tension and suspense to the story.

I will also complete the chapter I’ve been writing this week, where I have to finish a difficult scene of conflict between Mickey and his son.

Once again, it’s been great to get inspiration from a successful author, from my little bonus chat with Crime writer, William Shaw who passionately believes the secret to improving your writing is to . . . well, WRITE! That podcast episode will be released over at Joined Up Writing in the next couple of days, so be sure to check it out.

In the meantime, let me know how your own writing projects are going. What are your tips for making time to write? All at once or little and often? Let me know in the comments.

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Novel Writing – Fail to plan . . .

Last week I talked about the work I’ve begun on redrafting the beginning of my novel, ‘Safe Hands’ – focusing specifically on my opening chapter and prologue. This week, the ‘plan’ was to complete the structural work on the novel – by discarding the current end section and working out how and where to add a new minor character I feel the narrative now needs.

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The more observant of you will notice I’ve placed the word ‘plan’ in quotation marks, because the fact of the matter is, other than the scant few sentences I devoted to it in last week’s post, I failed to really outline what I intended to do and – more importantly – I failed to schedule in the time to actually make it happen. And as we all know . . .

Fail to plan, plan to fail

I won’t bore you with all the reasons/excuses – but the lack of progress has really brought everything into sharp focus for me and made me realise I have to get back into the habit of planning my week ahead and specifically scheduling in my writing time. Like many of you, I’ve got a very busy day job, this podcast, my family and everything else to fit in and the fact is . . . if I don’t plan when when I’m going to sit down to work on the novel then it simply won’t happen. So this week has been a wake up call and after a chat with my writing buddy, Maria Smith over at First Draft Cafe, we’ve both made a pact to get our shit together and make ourselves more accountable. That accountability will be two-fold. We will be accountable to each other – a forfeit system of having to get the coffees in and other sanctions is currently being formulated – but also through our blog posts. In other words, I’ll share with you what I want to achieve on a weekly basis and I’ll be brutally honest if and when it doesn’t work out. Deal? Will you prod me and spur me on through thick and thin?

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This week’s plan

So . . . this week, the novel work will be as follows. I want to do six slots over the course of the week and spend a minimum of 30 minutes on the novel each time. I know – it probably doesn’t sound a lot to some of you, but it’s 3 hours over the course of the week and I’m hoping that making it a daily habit will get me back into the swing of things and on some days that half an hour will become an hour or more. Think of it as me warming up, doing my stretches.

In terms of the specifics . . .

  1. I will complete the structural overhaul – specifically removing all of the chapters that will now not make sense in the current draft.
  2. Based on the critique received from my writing group on the opening chapter, I will complete the edit of Chapter One.
  3. I will write a brand new chapter, containing the minor character I feel is now needed to flesh out the back story of my antagonist, but to also add more tension and conflict to the main narrative.

My writing goals are only one part of an overhaul of the way I divide and plan my free time. Outside of the scope of this blog is the work I’ve been doing over at Joined Up Writing Podcast – including my recent interview with author, William Shaw – not to mention my day job and other committments. However, I’ll continue to audit how much time I have and try to focus on what’s important. What are your Time Management and Productivity tips? Share them in the comments or tweet me @MrKelly2u

Novel Writing – Opening Chapters and Prologues

This is the latest of my weekly updates on the redrafting of what will be my debut novel, ‘Safe Hands’. You can find the story so far in this previous post.

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The beginning of your book is the start of a journey

This week was all about revising my opening chapter. Like many of you reading this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about whether my book now starts in the right place. During the messy first draft, it’s best not to dwell on it too much, and it’s certainly not worth worrying about. However, as I push my draft on towards completion, it’s now something that needs to be addressed.

In addition to the dreaded FIRST CHAPTER CONUNDRUM, I’ve also toyed with the idea of a prologue. I know, I know, it’s a dirty word in some literary circles. I may be deluding myself, but to my mind, what I currently have isn’t actually a prologue. It’s a single tone-setting paragraph, with no historical context and will have a single word title: OPENING. And that is literally what it is . . . an opening to the book, an a description of the opening of a vault. What it does do, is give the reader an immediate sense of tone and a practical description of what my protagonist, Mickey Blake, can do – namely, crack a safe with only his bare hands and an acute sense of touch.

I made more revisions to the first chapter too, adding in a reference to a phone call that Mickey has just concluded as the novel begins. It sets the context for how he feels in the opening scene, but as the reader is left in the dark as to the specifics of the conversation, it raises a question and, I hope, provides the first ‘hook’ of the story.

I wanted to start the story in media res – come in late, get out early as the adage goes – and I think beginning the story with Mickey’s first meeting of potential antagonist, Parker, is a good way to do it.

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Dialogue scenes should be realistic

After making the revisions, I took the piece to Phoenix Writers, the critique group I belong to, and got lots of useful feedback – particularly on the dialogue in my scene. It was clear that it’s currently a little too testosterone-fueled and needs to be paced better. In places it suffers from ‘ping-pong’ syndrome, with characters simply delivering one complete monologue after another, with few interruptions or pauses. I should know better. In my own ‘Big Screen Writing’ workshop, I advise ‘break it up’. Real conversations are fragmented and often nothing more than a series of interruptions – especially when there is conflict in a scene. Armed with the invaluable feedback of the group, I will be redrafting the chapter this week.

Dialogue tweaks aside, however, the group seemed satisfied with where I’ve chosen to start the story and they loved the OPENING section, so it seems I can at least put that issue to bed for the time being.

In addition to redrafting the beginning of the first chapter, this week I’ll be adding in some additional narrative elements brought about by my structural work. A new minor character and scene will be added and the current end section of the novel will be almost entirely discarded! Stay tuned.

What about you? Where do you stand on the whole ‘Prologue/No Prologue’ debate? Are you confident your story begins in the right place? Have any tips you want to share? Drop me a line in the comments below – I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

While you’re here, you might also want to check out the latest bonus episode of Joined Up Writing, the weekly writing podcast I host. This week, Matt Johnson talks about authenticity in Crime Fiction.

How Hosting a Podcast Has Changed My Writing Life

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Hosting a podcast is changing my writing life.

I know, I know. We’ve been here before. Me talking all excited and motivated. Telling you about how I’ll be blogging every week. But this time I mean it. Honest. Wipe that smirk off your face and get with the programme, will you? I’m trying to be serious here.

Joking aside, for the past couple of months I have been putting out regular content, with my weekly podcast – Joined Up Writing. Originally conceived with and co-hosted by Leah Osbourne, the show began in 2014 based around the idea of two aspiring writers talking about all things writing. Over time it developed to focus on long-form interviews with established writers, from the world of Traditional and Indie Publishing. After a sporadic release schedule at the beginning of the year, Leah decided to move on and I relaunched the show in August with a packed roster of guests and new quick-hit bonus episodes called The Epilogue, which run between the longer interviews.

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The ethos behind the show – and the inspiration for its title – was always to connect with and promote other writers and share their stories and advice with other writers to inspire them on their writing journeys. It’s now expanded to include promoting other creatives, like book bloggers, with a new feature called Book Blogger’s Corner. I’m still on the lookout for more ideas and topics to cover so if you have any tips, do let me know in the comments below or over at Joined Up Writing.

On a personal level, going solo has thrown the focus back on to my own writing and my show introductions now include a quick update on the progress with my debut crime novel, ‘Safe Hands’. I realised this is what I used to do on this very blog and have gotten out of the habit. So, in line with the weekly releases of the podcast, I’ll be giving you an update of where I am with the book in the hope that you’ll be able to identify with some aspects of my journey, but also to make me more accountable for my progress.

However, it isn’t just talking about my own writing that has inspired me, so much as the guests I’ve been lucky enough to chat to. Guests like Thriller writer, Simon Toyne talking about how he took a risk and gave up a lucrative day job to write his first novel. Or Angela Ackerman and how she set up the One Stop For Writer’s website to help other writer’s achieve their goals. Nathan O’Hagan shared his struggles of fitting his writing around a pressured job – something many of us can relate to – and Melanie McGrath told me how the tragic death of her father inspired her to write. There are many more recorded conversations, that will be released in the coming weeks and months – chats with Indie Publishing guru, Joanna Penn, crime writer William Shaw, literary author Claire Fuller and ex-cop turned Writer, Matt Johnson.

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It was my recent chat with Joanna Penn, in particular, that made me realise I have to start knuckling down, stop procrastinating and actually commit to getting the book out into the world. In fact, look out for Joanna’s episode in November, for an important announcement about my novel.

Speaking of the novel, my next post will bring you up to speed with where I am and what I’ve been up to, but for now I just wanted to lay out my manifesto and give you the ‘why’ behind my decision to start posting again on a weekly basis.

So what about you? Where are you with your writing projects? What’s inspiring you and getting you back to the page? Share your stories and comments below. I’d love to hear from you. In the words of my podcast . . . let’s get ‘Joined Up!’

 

 

8 Great Podcasts for 2017

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Podcasts – what are they?

Podcasts are episodic, usually themed, audio content that you can listen to on the web or subscribe to using iTunes or on your smartphone. They’re almost always free and come in a variety of styles from Audio Drama, How-To Shows and Lifestyle, to Science, Comedy, Music, Current Affairs and True Crime.

Anyone who knows me, reads the blog or follows me on Twitter will probably have noticed my passion for podcasts. I even co-host one with Leah Osbourne – The Joined-Up Writing Podcast, where we interview succesful authors, editors, agents, screenwriters and anyone connected with reading or writing good books.

The range of choice and the quality of this relatively new medium (the birth of the iPod was when things really got going) continues to grow. I seem to find another great new show almost on a weekly basis, but here are my latest recommendations.

8 Great Podcasts . . .

Writing Shows

The Worried Writer – author, Sarah Painter is the self-confessed ‘Worried Writer’ who hosts this monthly show which usually includes interviews with other writers who give the background behind their work and process and offer advice on dealing with the dreaded Self-Doubt.

The Creative Penn – if you are a budding indie writer, chances are you are already familiar with independent publishing poster girl, Joanna Penn and if you aren’t, you should be. Joanna podcasts on a weekly basis and her archive and blog posts offer a wealth of advice and inspiration for independent authors everywhere.

Audio Drama

LifeAfter – a very new 10 part tech thriller that follows Ross, a low level FBI employee who is trying to deal with the death of his wife using a social media platform as a form of digital resurrection. Of course, all is not as it seems. It’s full of twists and turns and I was lucky enough to interview the show’s writer, Mac Rogers for a recent episode of The Joined-Up Writing podcast.

Homecoming – a star-studded cast includes David Schwimmer and Oscar Isaac and everything about this psychological thriller oozes class. The script, acting and excellent sound design help to tell a story about an experimental therapy treatment for traumatised soldiers. This really does show what can be done with the medium and I can’t wait for Season Two.

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My latest binge – Crimetown

True Crime

Crimetown – my current addiction and a superb example of how podcasts can handle true crime stories. Told through interviews with ex-criminals, government officials, police officers and an expertly crafted script, Crimetown is a serialised story of one of the biggest organised crime families in America – in the small city of Providence. Make sure you start at episode one and get ready to binge.

Stranglers – another gripping series that tells that fascinating (but often grizzly) story behind one of America’s most infamous serial killers, The Boston Strangler. Again, start at episode one to follow the story from the beginning and perhaps don’t listen to this one before bedtime, unless you like nightmares.

Science

Science Vs – a fascinating Pop Science show, that tackles topics like Hypnosis, Fracking and even The G-Spot! It never dumbs down, but keeps a light touch in its mission to ‘sift through the facts, so you don’t have to’.

Cinema

You Must Remember This – detailed research and a haunting soundtrack make this an interesting trip down memory lane, focusing specifically on the first century of Hollywood. Each episode tells a different story from Tinseltown’s sometimes glamourous, often mysterious and always entertaining past. Covering everything from the McCarthy Witch Hunts to Buster Keaton and Bruce Lee, this podcast is a must for film fans.

That’s it. For now . . .

I could go on and on and on and you can always check out my post from 2015 for a few more ideas. I’m always on the look out for new recommendations, so drop me a line in the comments to let me know what your latest listening pleasures are. Happy listening!

New Year Goals – don’t say the ‘r’ word!

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New Year’s Day is for nursing hangovers and banishing the regrets of last year, which is why I’m writing this on January 2nd. Yes, it’s that time again. Time to lay out my reso – NO! DON’T SAY IT! Let’s use goals, targets, milestones – anything but the ‘r’ word. Call me superstitious but any time I make a new one of those, it’s nothing more than a distant memory by Valentine’s day.

As this is mainly a blog about Writing, I’ll save all my empty promises of more exercise and less food for my loved ones. Bearing in mind I have to fit my writing around a full time job, here’s a run down of what I want to achieve this year.

THE NOVEL

I will finish a major rewrite (2nd draft) of my WIP by next Christmas. This means having it in good enough shape to either go to a professional editor or be ready for beta readers. This will be no mean feat. I’m currently up to 94k words and I’m pretty sure it will be well above 100k by time I’ve gone back and filled in gaps to complete my first draft. I do this in full knowledge that I will probably lose around 20k after the first major edit. It’s not the most efficient way to write a novel but it seems to be the only way I know how!

SUBMISSIONS

I want to sub AT LEAST one thing every month – to average at least 12 subs over the year. These will include short story submissions for competitions and publications.

NEW WRITING

I want to write 4 brand new short stories by next Christmas. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much – infact, it sounds pathetic! – but the novel really has to take priority this year. In 2016, focusing on the novel was great, but it was at the cost of my new work and I didn’t write any new short stories.

WRITING PODCAST

With the help of my co-host, Leah Osbourne, I’ll be producing at least one new full-length show of The Joined-Up Writing Podcast. We feature interviews with guest authors, screenwriters, editors and agents. We began the show back in 2014 and it’s going from strength to strength, with 50 full length episodes and more than 30 episodes of our Two Minute Tips (TMT) series. We’re always looking for new guests and ideas for topics to cover so feel free to get in touch. The full archive is available here and you can subscribe on Stitcher and iTunes.

SCREENWRITING WORKSHOP

In addition to all that, I need to write and deliver my first writing workshop to the members of my critique group – a bunch of people I have huge admiration and respect for. No pressure! The working title for the workshop is ‘Screenwriting Tips For Non-Screenwriters’ and I’ll be delivering it in March.

So, I think that’s enough to be going on with – at least a good baseline. Anything else will be a bonus. Who knows what 2017 will have in store for us, but I’m sure with a bit of positive thinking and alot of hard work, we can make it a happy and productive one.

What are your plans for the year? Are you sharing them with the world? Any hints and tips you want to share? Feel free to share links to your own goals and blog posts in the comments below and I wish you all good luck for 2017.

 

 

Parker and why we love an anti-hero

I’ve always been a fan of reading Crime Fiction but, aside from a couple of humorous short stories, was never inspired to write in that genre. I loved Rankin’s Rebus, Connelly’s Bosch and, of course Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, but writing a police procedural or following the investigations of a lone detective just didn’t appeal to me.  Everything changed when, a couple of years ago, a tweet caught my eye – from comedy writer Graham Linehan – waxing lyrical about ‘The Parker Novels’.

 

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Richard Stark’s debut ‘Parker’ Novel

Who is Parker?

Well, for a start, he really isn’t ‘The Good Guy’ – in any sense of the word. Unlike Rebus et al, he’s on the wrong side of the law, a ruthless single-minded criminal always looking for the next big score. He is the creation of the ‘Crime Writer’s Crime Writer’, Donald E Westlake, writing under his pseudonym of Richard Stark. Parker is merciless, amoral and has a complete lack of empathy, but like most anti-heroes, he does have his own strict code – a set of rules as inflexible as he is. There’s a full run-down of those rules on the 50 Years of Parker website, but the gist is that he is the ultimate professional. The job is everything. Killing a man is the last resort – but only because it tends to bring unwanted interest from The Law. He is totally loyal to his colleagues right up until the point they try to double-cross him, at which point they become his mortal enemy. Revenge is a recurring theme throughout the novels and the stories are littered with the bodies of those who thought they could betray Parker and live to tell the tale.

Any redeeming features?

Even for an anti-hero, Parker’s redeeming qualities are pretty thin on the ground. Yet Stark created a protagonist that readers found compelling and addictive – there are 24 Parker novels and at least three film adaptations.

For one thing, Parker gets things done. He makes things happen and that alone is an attractive trait for a main character. He’s decisive and straightforward. If you’re looking for some existential angst or emotional hand-wringing, look elsewhere. That’s not to say that Stark doesn’t put his main character into some sticky situations. Parker spends most of his time against the ropes and railing against the huge faceless criminal organisation called The Syndicate. In the opening chapters of his first caper, ‘The Hunter’ he is betrayed and left for dead. In a cast of low-life, disloyal undesirables, Parker stands out because he lives his life to such a strict set of rules. He’s almost monastic in his dedication. And, most importantly, he is very, very good at what he does. In fact, he’s the best and that’s irrestible to a reader. Throw in the fact that Parker is always the smartest guy in the room, able to cut anyone down to size with his deadpan wit, and it’s easy to see why he’s such an enduring figure.

He doesn’t have the vulnerability that so many other anti-heroes often exhibit, but his greatest strength – his ‘code’ – is also his biggest flaw. That unwillingness to bend, to double-cross the other guy first – is often where his problems begin.

My Inspiration

Stark’s prose is terse, tight and full of wit and after only a few pages of The Hunter, I was hooked. This was the type of character I wanted to write. A remorseless, unapologetic bad guy that everyone loves. The man that can walk into a room and say or do anything he damn pleases. And so, my leading man, Mickey Blake, was born.

Like Parker, Mickey is a career criminal, but is very much in the British villain mould. Unlike Stark’s man, by the time we meet Mickey at the beginning of my novel, he has plenty of vulnerability lurking beneath a tough, sarcastic exterior. In any given situation, he will choose the most inappropriate comment, just to score a cheap point, get a laugh or gain the advantage over whichever ne’erdowell he’s faced with.

In Stark’s novels, Parker’s stories unfold in third person point of view, but I wanted my readers to really get under Mickey’s skin and into his head as he’s forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife and an estranged son that hates his guts. That meant choosing a first person perspective and it’s been fun ‘being’ Mickey during the months I’ve been working on my first draft.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t try to emulate Richard Stark’s style, but I do hope that in Mickey Blake, I can create a British anti-hero that can at least hold his own with Parker – The Man With The Getaway Face.

Who is your favourite anti-hero? Or maybe you prefer the good guys? Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know your favourite Crime books too.

Stuck on your WIP? Skip to the end . . .

Stuck on your WIP? Things getting a little like wading through treacle? My advice? Skip to the end! That’s exactly what I’ve been doing after a long spell of procrastination and self-doubt.

Last time I gave you any kind of update, I was still in the honeymoon period of writing my second novel. 25,000 words in. The beginning of the relationship, when everything is exciting and new. Almost a year later, and I’m closing in on 90,000 words, and as we all know, with so much water under the bridge, you have to work a bit harder to keep the magic alive.

Loose-fitting pants . . .

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m a Plantser – I like to have a rough idea of where I’m going but don’t like to spend days and weeks planning every minute detail. These loose-fitting pants have served me well for the current novel (working title: Safe Hands) but, as usual, a couple of unexpected plot events took me by surprise and before I knew it, I’d created several loose ends and was tying myself up in knots. Although I had a vague idea of where I wanted to end up, with every new chapter, I felt I was drifting off course. My output slowed and eventually dried up completely. Anyone familiar with my posts will know that stopping to think for too long kills my momentum and gives rise to the dreaded Self-Doubt. So many times I forget to take my own advice – see Write or Die post from 2014.

Speaking of ‘Skip To The End’ – get to the point!

So, just at the moment I was ready to quit, I remembered my own advice and that of writing friends – WRITE THE ENDING FIRST. As my novel takes place over a week, building toward a heist that my protagonist and his cohorts have been planning, I decided to move directly to the day of the big job and just . . . WRITE. It was slow at first, but as I continued to raise the stakes, the words began to flow freely and without censure (a direct quote from writing friend Maria Smith) and I finally stopped worrying and clung to the fact that I’m writing a first draft. It’s meant to be terrible. The next stage will be editing and I can’t get to that stage unless I actually have something to edit.

The End is Nigh (honestly)

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because I had similar issues with my first novel (still consigned to First Draft Hell). But this is different. It’s a weird feeling. I know I’m tantalisingly close to finishing the first draft, but for once I feel calm and positive about the novel I know this ugly first draft will become. What about you? Do you have to wrestle with self-doubt on a daily basis – ‘of course we do,’ you reply, ‘we’re WRITERS!’ So how do you deal with it? What are your tips for pushing on through to the bitter end? How do you tackle all those plot complications you’ve created along the way? Or maybe you are a planner and merely scoff at all this talk of losing the plot? Let me know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

Writing a Novel – Are you a Pantser or a Plotter? I’m a PLANTSER!

Scrivener's Cork Board Feature can help you to see the shape of your novel
Scrivener’s Cork Board Feature can help you to see the shape of your novel

Are you a ‘Pantser’ or a ‘Plotter’?

It’s a question we writers seem to be obsessed with. It turns up on countless websites, forums and in many of our author interviews over at The Joined Up Writing Podcast. In case you somehow missed it, a ‘Pantser’ is someone who writes without any real plan – by the seat of their pants – and a ‘Plotter’, well, guess what? They like to plot everything in detail and have a clear road map of where they’re going.

So, what am I?

My innate impatience and lack of organisation probably means I’m naturally inclined to wing it – just start writing and hope for the best – but over the years I have come to realise I do need some kind of idea of where I’m going.

I’ve talked in previous posts about my experience with Nanowrimo. The first sixty thousand words flowed consistently because I had spent the last week of October writing a chapter plan. This was really only a skeleton outline that consisted of nothing more than one or two sentences of what I wanted to happen in each chapter. Once I got going, I got complacent. This novel-writing lark is easy, I thought, as I hurtled towards the end of my chapter plan. A week later I ran out of track, at which point the writing became a lot more tricky.

Hmm. Ok. Never one to miss out on a learning opportunity, I bought a couple of books on outlining and decided that my next novel would be PROPERLY OUTLINED. Real, detailed, three act-type stuff. Character notes, beat sheets, back stories, the lot. I spent months plotting a novel about ‘The secret KGB past of misanthropic Russian psychic, Tsurly Guiger, catches up with him when plucky aspiring journalist, Alyson Peabody discovers him hiding in Leicester.’ (Yes, I just used the logline technique mentioned in my last post!).

It’s a novel I still intend to write but, for me, spending that long trying to plot the story without writing more than the first two chapters almost killed my enthusiasm for the story. The characters needed at least a few chapters to come to life on the page, to find their feet, so that I could run with their story.

So . . . pure ‘pantsing’ doesn’t work for me and I can’t spend weeks and months plotting. What’s a man to do? Like all writing advice . . . you have to find what works for you. My current crime novel is a product of my new approach – ‘Plantsing’.

‘Plantsing’ you say?

Sounds like you just took ‘Pantsing’ and ‘Plot’ and awkwardly glued them together. Yes, that’s right – deal with it. Anyway, here’s how it’s been working for me.

You may recall this project originally started life as a short story. Then a novella, until finally it grew legs and I knew there was a book in it. The first few chapters flowed easily as my protagonist, Mickey, drove the plot with his singular personality and wit. However, once I knew the story was opening out in to something much longer, I realised I had to make sure that every time I sat down to work (my morning ritual, of which I’ll write about in another post) I had a good idea of what to write. My solution was to use the power of Scrivener and create a few chapters in my binder. Then write at least a couple of sentences on their index cards (like the ones you can see below). I have tried to make sure that I always have at least four chapters ‘planned’ ahead in this way. EDIT: As pointed out by Misa Buckley on Twitter – you may want to work like this and have no wish to use Scrivener. It’s perfectly possible to do the same thing using your preferred software and usual outlining methods. It’s just that, I feel, Scrivener makes it much easier to do.

You can break your work down in to scenes, chapters or any other chunks you fancy
You can break your work down in to scenes, chapters or any other chunks you fancy

What if I don’t know what the next chapter is?

No problem. Because Scrivener lets you create separate documents and drag them wherever you want, you have complete flexibility. Only know the final chapter or scene? Fine – create a document, outline it with a few sentences and write it whenever you like. Know that your main character is going to sleep with a barmaid in a couple of chapters time, but not sure how he gets there? No worries – skip ahead and write that scene. Outline the bits you know – just make sure you always have something to come back to and that you have enough direction to keep the structure of your story intact.

It’s ‘Plantsing’ and it works for me. What works for you? How do you get through that first draft without writing yourself down a blind alley or boring yourself to death? Share your thoughts below, subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter – I would love to chat.

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