follow a rookie writing his first novel

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

To Plan or not to Plan…

So this week I’ve been looking at planning out the novel…..or not. From the books I’ve read so far it seems a pretty even split between those authors who do extensive planning prior to actually writing and those who do very little on the grounds that it might stifle their creative input.

I sort of see what the non planning camp is getting at; We might start out with a perfectly sound plan, but while writing it may become apparent that a particular character wouldn’t really do what we planned, however if we have planned something we tend to stick with it and end up with unrealistic character action.

My take is that I will plan; but if the plan becomes unrealistic I’ll adjust it. I have a project management background so using plans as a ‘living document’ (don’t you just hate jargon like that) is second nature. My worry is that without a plan – and in particular an ending that makes sense and is satisfying, the whole thing will just meander around or peter out.


So, I planned it out and have 18 steps to the novel. I wrote a couple of steps up and they averaged out to around 1500 words each – that’s a problem, because 18 x 1500= 27,000 and I need at least 80,000 words. I’m not going to worry about this yet, but it does indicate that I might need more sub plots, or fill out some of the characters. Apparently it isn’t too uncommon a problem but I would love to hear from anyone who has faced this and what they did when they got there.

I also read the book ‘The Novel Writer’s Toolkit’ by Caroline Taggart this week. The parts on writing the novel are pretty much the same as I’ve read before but the section written by agents and publishers was most useful. In addition, there are sections on actual publishers and agents with fabulous information on what they each are looking for, how they like work submitted etc – the book is worth its modest price just for that alone.

I’d also like to hear from anyone who has used an iPad in conjunction with Evernote and/or Scrivener, when their main computer isn’t a Mac but a PC – are the documents accessible from both platforms?


The storyline

OK, so I’ve decided the novel is about someone who wakes up one morning to find Pan (yes, the greek god) in his back bedroom.  He hasn’t actually seen him, he can’t go in himself because he suffers from panic attacks, and the thought of coming face to face with a deity that can cause these is just too much.  He knows he’s in there though because his friends have told him so and he can hear Pan moving about.

The problem then is how to get rid of Pan?  (and possibly, how did he get there).

The story’s underlying message is that you can only overcome your fears by facing them.

I have a few other ideas on plot development and scenes.  I’ve also been working up possible characters, that may or may not appear in the novel – here’s one provisionally called ‘Bom’:

I’ve always felt there was something incongruous about white people with dreadlocks – except for Bom.  On Bom, the ‘dreads’ looked un-nervingly natural, who knows, perhaps he’d even been born with them.  Like Alan, Bom was thin as a lat, but whereas Alan’s thinness seemed a consequence of his bottled up frustration and rigidity, Bom’s served more to emphasize an ethereal quality, somehow making him less solid and more of a fluid.  Perhaps he was working his way to gaseous and one day all we would see would be the smoke like tendrils of his beloved dreads floating by.

Bom liked his weed.  Actually Bom seemed to live for weed; no, rather he was the weed.  If a cannabis plant could grow legs and put on a pair of crumpled baggy trousers you might think it was Bom’s long-lost twin.  Bom even wore hemp. Hemp tee shirts, hemp trousers (baggy and grey), christ – even hemp boots!  I wouldn’t mind betting even his underwear would be hemp if he could get it.  I suppose practically though, if he were stranded on a desert island he could always smoke his clothes; a sort of walking ‘break glass in case of an emergency’ outfit.

The other quality Bom had, was his ‘laid-backness’; practically horizontal.  Absolutely nothing bothered him.  I once fancied I saw him raise an eyebrow at a particularly controversial remark, but it might just have been a trick of the light.  What is Bom into by the way? Shamanism of course – as he says,” after all, they do have all the best gear.”

What do you think?  I see him as a foil to the main character (called Alan here, but I might change the name).  Bearing in mind this is a very rough draft, what do you think of the overall style of the piece, which is indicative of how I want to write the whole novel?

Starting with Scrivener

I’ve been looking at the scrivener software this week.  First impressions are good, but its a big and complex piece of software.  It’s written to accommodate any sort of writing – theses, novels, technical journals, screenplays, etc.

I decided to look for some help (after working through the early tutorials) and found an e-book (kindle) “Writing a novel with Scrivener” by David Hewson.  Just the thing I needed.  David focussed on just the bits of scrivener necessary for novel-writing, so these are the only bits I will use.

Basically, the point of this package is that you can organise your work in small chunks akin to scenes.  you can work on them in any order, have each of them at different stages of revision, move them about and at the end compile a book into Word or even e-book format.  All the while giving you various ways to view the structure of your work in progress which makes keeping track of where you are really easy.

Downside is that scrivener was written for the Mac and although there is a windows version (which I’m using), it doesn’t have all the features – although I haven’t noticed this being a problem yet, it might be later.  You can get a free 30 day trial of Scrivener from http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php go and try it out for yourself.

Also this week I finished reading the book “How to write damn good fiction” by James N Frey.  It is well written and witty with plenty of good tips for the aspiring writer.

So, next task is to flesh out my initial ideas for the novel and I’ll post those next week….

How to books

I thought a good place to start would be to do some reading around how to write a good novel.  My previous experiences with writing anything of length tell me that you can’t just sit down and rattle off 100,000 words or so (yes, I found out that is the average length of a novel these days) from start to finish.

I’ve read half a dozen books or so this week and they are fairly consistent with their advice – more to follow on individual themes as I proceed.

In my humble opinion there is one stand out book though that is brilliantly written, clear, methodical and just all round, well brilliant!  That is “The story book” by David Baboulene – a must read if you’re thinking of writing a novel, screenplay, or anything else.

Also worth a mention is “Writing the paranormal novel” by Steven Harper, which I really liked and is especially useful if your book (like mine) will contain a paranormal element.

The next issue I’m going to address before getting stuck in to the writing, is what to write with.  For work of this length a standard word processor is really a non starter.  I find any work over 15,000 words too unwieldy in  this form.

I’ve come across a software package called ‘scrivener’ which looks promising, so I’m going to look at that next.  If you’re already a user of this on the PC (rather than Mac), I would be grateful for your thoughts.

BTW, the other books I read are:

How to be a writer – Stewart Ferris

Your writing coach – Jurgen Wolff

How to write and sell short stories – Della Galton

How to write a novel – John Braine

and I’m part way through How to write damn good fiction by James N Frey.

Let me know if you would like an opinion on any of these….

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