But where was I? Ah! Having a Tweetexchange with the lovely Keren David, whose excellent debut novel, When I Was Joe, was published by Frances Lincoln earlier this month. We had covered several topics (including our shared love of Georgette Heyer) when we moved on to the subject of writing habits. I was twitting about how important it was to CLEAR THE DECKS before starting, when she replied with this: "That's something I need to learn - I'm too apt to just plunge in....Never make notes. Am useless at planning or thinking ahead. Just see where it takes me." And it started me thinking.
Are you a PLUNGER or a PLANNER?
I used to be a PLUNGER. I'd jump straight into the millstream of story, gripped in the jaws of my plot and the Story Gods, and paddle frantically to wherever they took me. Then, later, I'd need to know who did what to whom when and where and what their hair colour was and whether they had three eyes in chapter four or five and when-did-the-scales-appear and
ANYOFITANDIT'SGOINGTOTAKEDAYSTOFINDITALL. Get the picture? I've never been one of those annoying people who can remember the 44-line poem they wrote 15 years ago and recite it verbatim. My brain has always been forgetfully middle-aged. Not senile, you understand. Just a little...absent-minded. It's all that creative stuff going on in my head, of course. So now I PLAN. The story is knocking on the door of my brain, wanting to hurtle out and lick me all over. But there are PREPARATIONS to be made first. Here's how it goes:
- First I clean/clear the desk and office of dirty teacups, cloudy glasses with suspicious grey things growing in the bottom, sticky rings of who-knows-what (but possibly Ribena or limejuice), crumbs, old dog bones, dead insects, dust, odd socks, uneaten-so-stale chocolate-covered snacks and pieces of cake (a VERY small item, this), 104 random books in a tottering pile, post-it notes with mysterious telephone numbers scribbled among forgotten must-remembers, redundant piles of proofs, my missing wedding-present earrings (thank god I found THOSE before the Wanton Toast Eater asked why I wasn't wearing them), plus other revolting or unnecessary ephemera. I'll also do filing, tax returns (if it's that time of year--new projects always seem to start in January) and general tidying. Never underestimate the power of a little selective desk de-cluttering (or Office Feng Shui if you're posh). It clears the mind wonderfully. And it makes me feel less of a slattern.
- Phew! So that's it? Let slip the dogs of story.... NO! Wait. The FOUR ALL IMPORTANT FILES come next. I make a folder on the computer with the book's working title into which will go (along with the working copy) the following files:
- FILE 1: CHARACTERS: Every character will be put here as they arrive in the book, along with their physical characteristics, who they are related to, and any quirks, likes, dislikes and useful information like how many legs they have. I might also, later on, group them into categories. Humans/Fairies/Gods/Monsters etc. Even if I don't use it in the book itself, I need to know who they are and what they are like. And of course, I can refer back to it when that dodgy memory of mine lets me down as to whether they have green eyes or blue on page 43.
- FILE 2: PLACES: Whether I'm writing about a real place or a fantasy otherworld, I need to know where things are. How far is it from Wyrmesbury to Vesterton? That's something I didn't know when I wrote Hootcat Hill, and I needed to. And doing the mapping for Atticus and Melissa's journey through the real landscape of the Greek myths was far more of a nightmare than it needed to have been if I had written down stuff as I went. So in here go towns, cities, streets, roads, landmarks and everything else remotely geographical. People who can draw might make paper maps. I can't and don't, and I haven't learnt how to do it on the computer. Yet.
- FILE 3: TIMELINE: Oh God! The timeline and its importance cannot be overstated. Where something happened is important, but WHEN is just as vital. It took me days of angst and panic and sleepless nights to disentangle the complexities of the timeslip passages and exactly when the when on both sides of the door was in Hootcat Hill, BECAUSE I HADN'T KEPT NOTES. Continuity is vital--and you can be sure that if you get it wrong some beady-eyed reader will take pleasure in telling you so. You just hope the beady-eyed reader is your editor, or it can be embarrassing.
- FILE 4: REFERENCE: In here goes every weblink, book and page reference I look at for a book, whether it's useful or not. The point is, I might want it again. And if it's not here I won't be able to find it. There was one reference in Atticus the Storyteller about eggs and onions being left at crossroads as an offering to Hecate on a certain feastday. Guess what? I didn't write down where I found the reference, and it caused me no end of trouble and tearing of hair to find it again. Lesson learnt.
- CHAPTER SKELETON PLANS
- and that dratted all-important SYNOPSIS