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Planning to Write, Writing to a Plan

Posted on March 21st 2014

In conversations with fellow authors I have heard differing opinions about how they tackle writing a novel. Some are meticulous in their planning and have worked out the beginning, middle and end of their story the moment they put fingers to keyboard. This must be reassuring as they can see, albeit in the far distance, the end of the road. The arduous journey of turning those images and words in your head into a coherent story does already have a sense. Some authors admit to getting distracted during the writing process and this can alter the course of the narrative but the story never gets completely derailed.
I for one started off my first novel, ‘Hidden Lives’ (#HiddenLives) with no idea how it was going to end. This was probably why it took nearly seven years to complete. Readers have said my writing quality varied in different parts of the book although I seemed to hit a more consistent standard as the book progressed. I am certain this was affected by what I was doing at the time but it is no excuse; one’s prose should be sharp as pin from page to page. The trouble is that in common with many first-time authors writing is a passion that gets fitted around real life’s work – you know the one that pays the mortgage, puts food on the table and clothes on the kids’ backs. I am currently 65% of the way through the sequel novel to ‘Hidden Lives’ and I have yet to work out the final denouement.
With this follow-on book I have had more time and hope to complete the MS around July, approximately twelve months from start to finish. Whilst I still have a day job it is not as intense and the extra time has allowed me more concentrated bursts of writing. However, I think a major reason for the faster pace is that the characters of the book are already formed, they are there in my head and I know their accents, idiosyncrasies and likely behaviours. Yet once again when I set out to write I just returned to the imaginary world of Windelton, the town in which the story is set, with only the vaguest idea what was going to happen to the myriad characters where I had left them at the end of the last novel.
I was listening to a presentation at the London Author Fair last month where one of the authors of’ Write a Blockbuster and Get It Published’ (an alluring title if there ever was one) was discussing the three act structure and how it worked for many writers. Another title mentioned was ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler as being another instructive read.
I would welcome any authors’ comments to this conundrum. Are you like me who just plan to write but don’t write to a plan?

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