Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A3 Plotting


The first draft of my novel's plot is complete. Well, not 100% complete - I don't actually know how it's going to end yet - but complete enough to begin some research.

Despite what Stephen King says about plotting (i.e. don't do it), I thought it was best for me to have a go at drafting up a plot. Being my first novel, I think I need at least a basic story blueprint laid out before me. I don't think I am at the stage where I can just take a concept and write down whatever comes to mind (although, that does sound appealing). I probably could, but it would be rubbish. So call me "Plot Boy". For now.

There are two extremes to plotting - the detailed method and the "back of a napkin" method. The former involves sitting down and mapping out every little event that occurs in the novel, every conversation, every disaster or tragedy, falling just short of writing out the prose. The latter is a scratchy, incomplete scribble that barely rises above an idea - maybe it just describes a situation - and you go from there and see where it takes you. They both have pros and cons - mainly being: the former gives you direction, while the latter is much more fun.

Bearing in mind that this is my first novel and that I want to inject some fun into the process, I decided to go for an in-between approach with slight leanings towards the detailed method.

I grabbed a blank page of A3 photocopy paper from work and got started, writing every weekday morning for a week and a bit. I decided to write down everything that came to mind, leaving out the detail, but making sure things made sense, fitted together and did not contradict. At least the same amount of ideas came out of my head during those eight days as compared to the previous eight months when the story was banging around in my head.

So after eight days: both sides of the A3 paper were filled with a general chronological plot and notes on motivations, side plots, questions to be answered, etc, etc. It's detailed, quite detailed, but there is also plenty of room left (in the plot, not on the page) to go off on a tangent if I so wish to. And there is the fact that the final fifth of the novel is nowhere to be seen. I'm leaving that until later. How much later will depend on how confident I become.

The whole experience was very satisfying and of course, fun. I recommend plotting on A3 paper, it helps capture the whole plot on one page - a kind of snapshot - that you can return to for adjustments or just to refresh your memory. I used little boxes - like a basic flow chart - to chart the progression of the story. Writing in pencil is obviously preferable as there will be plenty of changes to be made when better ideas form in your mind.

I suppose my original concern was that a detailed plot would soak up all the fun and excitement of writing the actual novel (hence where the napkin approach works better). However, after finishing my first draft, I can tell you that not only was the exercise exciting, a plot is such a dynamic thing that no one knows what will actually happen when I start typing away at Chapter One.

Now, I must change hats - Plot Boy becomes Research Boy (and I don't mean a lad from Victoria's north eastern suburbs).

Friday, January 12, 2007

And It Begins!!

Ominously, I typed up this blog last Friday, but it would not "publish". Not that I'm superstitious or anything. (whimper)


A momentous day like today deserves more blog time, but unfortunately I'm running late for some panto.

Today was momentous because today I began my novel. With teeth gritted and buttocks clenched, I arose from bed this morning as the alarm went off and without pause, discarded my misgivings and fears, and headed for my desk and computer.

There was no fanfare or cutting of the ribbon; I just sat down, turned my computer on and let the fingers do the talking.

I was pretty excited though.

First, I came up with a provisional title for my novel. Every novel should have a title from the very beginning - it gives it an identity. I mean, after all, this is my baby and you can't have a baby without naming it. I'll change its name by deed poll later on - the natural course in the life of a novel.

Next, I wrote up a very brief synopsis. This is handy so as to keep the "thrust" (panto style) of the novel in focus. Of course, this can change too, as the novel evolves.

I must say it was fun writing the synopsis: it was like drafting up the blurb that may appear on the final product – very exciting indeed.

So I’ve started; I’ve broken the seal. Now let the words come flooding out.

Oh, I suppose you would like to know what the provisional title of the novel is. Okay, fair enough. It’s – oh damn, look at the time – I’m late for panto!!!

(sniggers off into the distance).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Yesterday: Sick; Today: Scared

I'm back! Did you miss me? No? Fine, don't worry about it then.

Nevertheless, I'm back from a one-day forced sickie (and yes, I was sick). A bout of the local flu had me in all sorts on Tuesday and yesterday, I woke feeling horrid. So I stayed home and didn't get up to much at all. Except a bit of thinking.

This morning, the alarm went off at 6.30. It was time to get back into my (ir)regular writing routine. And this morning, it was time to do that one thing I've been wanting to start for over two years. Yes! My novel!!

But I didn't get up. Yes, I still wasn't 100% healthy and yes, I was more than a little bit tired and yes, the bed was sooo warm and toasty. But there was also a part of me that didn't get up because I was just a little bit scared.

This confirmed my thinking from the previous day. It had been in the afternoon. I was lying there on the couch with my runny nose, sore throat and head full of phlegm and I was thinking about my novel. As mentioned above, I have made the decision to start my first novel ASAP. My rationale is that I would like to be published in the U.K. and I'm not sure how much longer we will be staying here.

So, I thought to myself, I better get cracking! To hell with the preamble and preparation and all that rubbish; let's get started!

Then I thought - what I will do first is re-read Stephen King's On Writing and my course notes on novel writing and make a few more notes, some kind of guidance or crib sheets to keep me on track.

And then it hit me: I was dancing around my handbag. I was procrastinating. I was delaying that moment when I would have to sit down and start the novel.

Because I am scared.

The same thing happened this morning. I planned to get up and get started, but part of me was frightened.

Frightened that I won't know where to start. Frightened that I won't be able to write a single coherent word. Frightened that my novel is going to be rubbish. Frightened that it will become all too clear that I can't cut the mustard when it comes to writing novels. Frightened that I will be forced to live out my days as a lowly accountant.

Frightened of failure when it all boils down to it.

I know the remedy for this "Novelophobia" is to just get on with it and start writing (tonight, damn you!) but it's making me very anxious indeed.

Obviously all authors go through it, either on their first novel, their second (due to the expectation attached to it) or every novel they write. But that doesn't make me feel better.

How do I overcome it?!

One idea is to just have fun with it. One of things that I wanted to ensure when writing this novel is to enjoy it; enjoy the process of writing. If I don't have at least some fun writing a novel then, well, it ain't worth it.

So, maybe, that's where I should start - drop the pressure, discard all the self imposed rules and just enjoy it. That should be easy, as I am such a carefree, easy going kinda guy whose troubles are like water off a duck's back. Yeah, just have fun with it. No need to be scared at all.

Not . . . scared . . . at . . . all.


Mummy!!! I want my mummy!!!