Getting started down the long road…


So here we are, January, the time for new resolutions, new starts and maybe a new piece of fiction? I have or rather had a WIP, which I have now put to bed for a few months. I need a break from it; I feel it is as complete as I can make it without ripping the whole work to shreds. Now I am thinking about how to start the next project.

Planning the last book consisted of spending weeks chewing over an idea, developing character, situation and plot using notebooks and sometimes the backs of envelopes. I found the backs of envelopes quite handy for scribbling ideas on, although I am sure anyone reading this always carries an actual notebook with them.

This is a brief personal overview of how I approach things…

  1. What if?
    Personally I don’t believe in inspiration, I think stories are everywhere. I had an impression of my protagonist and their situation, the ‘what if?’
  2. Who are you?
    Spend time getting to know the protagonist, the antagonist, and their companions. Develop deep profiles of them, their motivations, background, and exposition of their world. I have a couple of box files of notes, the majority are for my benefit and are not in the finished work.
  3. What’s the story?
    I had an impression of the end of the story and played with various ideas of how the story might work, situations and key events.
  4. The road to Hell
    Eventually I realised it would take more than one book to reach the ending I had envisaged. I split the overall narrative arc to work over a series of books and then sketched out the story for the first book in several notebooks over many lunch hours in Pret a Manager.
  5. The long road to ruin
    With what amounted to a rough synopsis I started to write the first draft. I approached this rather like a brain dump in many ways, writing it relatively quickly. This gave me a complete story to work with. At this point it had deviated from the synopsis, once the story flowed it developed a life of it’s own and I began to understand my characters in their natural environment.
  6. The long view
    Then the real work of rewriting and editing began. Does the story work? I looked carefully at the narrative and moved various sections, added scenes, removed others including several characters. Only after this did I seriously look at grammar etc.

In a nutshell I work by starting small and expand outwards which is similar to the Snowflake method of planning a novel. For my next project I may borrow some of the structure from snowflake and will use Scrivener, which I bought last weekend (Chella wrote an excellent article on this last week). I hope Scrivener will assist with…

  1. Keeping track of character and plot development.
  2. Making the re-writing process of many thousands of words easier to manage.

So there you have it. I am interested in your thoughts on this, how do you work?


One thought on “Getting started down the long road…

  1. Interesting points, Peter. I’m not as methodical as you. I usually get a voice in my head, just start writing and see what happens. I don’t tend to write character backgrounds. I do try and cast them, as if I’m making a movie. So my lead character will be a Winona Ryder type or Bill Nighy or whoever. That gives me an instant well of mannerisms etc. And then I write my way into my characters and story.

    This haphazard method means it probably takes me longer to get anywhere. Now on draft 3 of my novel, I’ve finally had to sit down and get methodical. Having written myself on a complete tangent (which has become the start of a completely different novel), I’ve stripped it back to my original idea and used the three act structure to get an outline going.

    Starting is easy, plotting and planning is like pulling teeth for me, but I think it probably makes the whole thing easier in the long-run. I’ve always avoided the bits of tasks I don’t like. So if you can, I’d advise non-outliners to give the snowflake method a try.


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