Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Planning - and keeping to the plan

Stop press - another plan gone awry - my apologies for postponing book signing in Waterstones Watford tomorrow 13th March. I'm not 100% fit and don't want to meet you when I'm not on form. New date to be arranged soon! See schedule on my publisher's website, starting again on 27th March.
I wonder what effect planning has on other writers? There's a continuing debate over whether writing prose is a creative art form or a craft, like chiselling a detailed pattern on a decorative wooden table.
My first book, CUT SHORT, was an undisciplined outpouring of ideas, mainly because I wasn't writing it with a reader in mind. I never expected anyone to read it. I wrote it simply because I started and couldn't stop. It was great fun to write, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creative buzz. Those of you who follow my author blog may recall that when my publisher sent my MS to an editor, I had something of a wake up call. 'Your poor readers won't have a clue what's going on.' So I reworked my rather self indulgent MS into a more coherent form which thankfully went on to receive positive reviews and a lot of word of mouth buzz, resulting in two reprints in the first six months.
I did plan the second book in my series, ROAD CLOSED, but despite my best efforts, I still ended up making some very last minute changes to the MS. (Not in my publisher's good books at the moment, I'm afraid.)
Now that I have an agent, he has encouraged me to write a full synopsis for my third book, DEAD END. Problem solved? You might think so. But now I have to try and stick to my synopsis... and I've already had to make three major changes... I honestly find the writing is quite easy. It's the planning that I struggle with.
Am I unusually disorganised or is this the same for everyone? And does anyone have any helpful hints about planning books? Any hints, tips or suggestions will be very gratefully received - preferably before my third book goes to the typesetters.

27 comments:

Eryl Shields said...

Crikey, you're on your third book, I've just not been keeping up at all!

Still, it's lovely to hear things are going so well for you: two reprints in six months for Cut Short, wow.

I don't believe art is limited by form or materials it goes beyond those things, beyond crafting. But an artist needs to be able to craft before they can create art. Off the top of my head I'd say Proust made prose into art.

Linnette R Mullin said...

Hi, Leigh! Personally, I believe when prose is done properly, it is truly a work of art. It takes great skill to master words and whip them into formation to create the word pictures you want to convey.

As to helping you with the aspect of writing, I encourage you to do what works best for you. I get an idea of my basic outline. How does the story begin, how does it end, and what are some key things you want to happen in between. Then, I start writing.

I'm picky about the names of my characters. I tend to choose names for their meanings as well as readability. I get to know my characters as I write. By the first several chapters, I have a pretty good ideal of who they are and will jot down a profile to refer to in order to keep myself consistent. This is probably best done before you start writing, but I find in writing that the character ends up telling me who they are.

Don't saddle yourself so striclty to your synopsis. It won't work. Stories change themselves while in the making. Characters' actions and reactions dictate what happens during the story - at least for me. They are always surprising me with a new twist. Even side characters pop up unexpectantly.

If you have to stop to do some research for a new chapter, do so. I'm in the midst of police procedure research right now. Can't move forward until I know what a policeman would do.

I'm the type who does not like major re-writes, so I try to get each section, whether a chapter or group of chapters, pretty close to the way I want it before moving on to the next section. The reason for this is because everything that happens has a ripple effect. If you change your mind about an incident in the middle of the book, it will change the rest of the story and you have to rewrite it all over again.

Hope this helps. :D

Thanks for leaving me a comment. I don't get many, but I enjoy every one. :D

HelenMHunt said...

I was dreadful with my first novel - no planning to speak of at all - which did lead to a lot of problems and extensive rewriting. So, I do intend to plan the second one. How that will work out remains to be seen.

Crystal Clear Proofing said...

As much editing as I've done, it never ceases to amaze me how some authors write with such apparent ease!

Your accomplishments thus far are so impressive!

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Eryl - I love it when old blogfriends drop in. It's been a while and great to hear from you.
'an artist needs to be able to craft before they can create art' It's a bit of a chicken and egg, isn't it? But I agree, a writer, any artist, needs both. And the 99% perspiration!

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Linnette - thank you for your thoughts. I agree with just about everything you say! I think part of the art is finding out what does work best for the individual. It's so much a matter of taste. I'm viewing the whole exercise as a learning journey. I'm going to do a post on planning soon, I think, as I have so much to say about it. And names - they are so important. The point of the synopsis is to stop me racing off on some random tangent that has nothing to do with where I'm taking my reader. No surprise that I'm not very good at reading maps! Thanks to computers, making changes is fairly easy, but I do get myself in a bit of a muddle sometimes. I'm hoping the synopsis will help... changing the synopsis should be easier than changing the MS...

Leigh Russell said...

Helen - I'm sorry you had such a complicated time with your first novel (but selfishly secretly relieved to know I'm not the only one!) Let me know how you get on with the second book. I planned mine quite carefully, wrote it, and then made some last minute changes (much to my publisher's annoyance!)
How do you know when it's finished, never mind good enough?!

Leigh Russell said...

Thank you for the kind words, Crystal Clear Proofing. I can write endlessly. It's making sense that is the hard part.

Leigh Russell said...

ps
My publishers aren't really annoyed with me. They are far too nice! I'm very fortunate to have stumbled across such a lovely group of people - courteous and supportive in the best sense of the words. I love working with civilised people!

Debs said...

I'm sure your book will be great and can't wait to read Cut Short.

I write a synopsis, but mainly to keep me going and usually end up having to change it completely by the time I've finished writing the book.

Good luck.

Leigh Russell said...

I think I've sorted out my megamuddle with my synopsis. My brain was temporarily befuddled... In life, I can blame my muddles and confusion on circumstances beyond my control. In my writing, I don't have that excuse!

Jen Brubacher said...

Aw, I'm missing you again. I was going to head out to Watford today. Well, I'll keep an eye out for another signing. Feel better soon.

Leigh Russell said...

Sorry Jen! I'll be in ST ALBANS on March 27th so hope to see you there.

Jilly said...

Hope you feel better soon, Leigh

Guillaume said...

I envy you for being so disciplined and so productive. I wish I could keep to plan myself and be able to produce something more than a blog post.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Jilly. I'll soon be out and about again.

Leigh Russell said...

Hmmm, Guillaume. Productive, yes. Disciplined... er.... I wish!

Middle Ditch said...

Those dreadful synopsis. I hate them. Cram in as much information as you can in just a few words.

My problem is not so much the writing but the organizing of recording dates.

Leigh Russell said...

It must be a nightmare, Monique, having to gather all your cast together. Everyone seems to be so busy these days. We struggle to meet up as a family all on the same day, even at Christmas! Our children have partners' families to visit on different days... and when we do manage to agree on a date, someone goes down with a cold or flu... I don't know how you manage. But I'm so glad you do!

Val said...

This is probably one thing that would keep me from becoming a novelist...
I would never be able to follow a strict plan or outline.
My 'creative' juices would not flow that way~~if you know what I mean.

You are doing an incredible job, keep it up!

Rick said...

Ignore structure, Leigh. Write across the lines!

Leigh Russell said...

It doesn't always feel that great, Val. That said, I've been looking at proofs for ROAD CLOSED and it's not a complete disaster... very nerve wracking, though, wondering if readers will like it...

Leigh Russell said...

Across the lines and outside the box, Rick! I feel as though that describes my life right now,. The writing's on track but I'm falling apart... I'm not 100% right now but WILL be fighting fit again very soon.

Star said...

Please pop across to my Blog today. I have left a little something for you :)
Blessings, Star

Leigh Russell said...

Thank you, Star. I'm so pleased to hear your good news - and so excited to see Cut Short listed as one of your favourite books that I tweeted about it!

JJ Beattie said...

Hi Leigh, thanks for coming by to Tea Stains. I was very excited to see that I could get Cut Short in Bangkok. We have two English Language book shops - and lots of branches of each - Kinokuniya and Asia Books. Hopefully I can get through the protesting Red Shirts tomorrow to buy Cut Short.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks for making the effort, JJ. I really appreciate it.