As I’ve been planning my new novel this last week or so, I couldn’t help wondering how others approach this phase of the writing process.
When I hear writers say that they ‘write into the mist’ I can’t help but admire them, it’s something that I could never do. To me that would be like going on a ‘Penny Hike’ where every time you get to a junction, you flip a coin to see which way to go. Others I know like to plan in detail, they plot and plot until they have every scene in every order and know exactly where they are going. They plan their writing journey with the precision of a GPS navigation system. Sadly, I’m not that organised. I’m probably somewhere in between. I do like to plan and I like to gather together scenes that I think may fit into my novel along the way but not in huge detail. I have a pretty good idea where it’s all going but am prepared to take a detour now and again. I see it rather like planning a journey with an Ordinance Survey Map, knowing that you are starting at ‘A’ and going to end up at ‘B’ – albeit eventually.
Having said that, I do like to have a good handle on the time-line and it’s something that evolves as I write. A bit like a travel journal. I like to know the month my novel starts, if possible the week and the day. I also like these days to be a true reflection of days in real life. For example, if my heroine works at the Post Office, I can’t have her going into work on a Bank Holiday Monday, so I like to get the calendar out and check. I’m not entirely sure every reader or, indeed, any reader would go and check themselves but it would be just my luck that someone reading it will know that date – maybe it was their birthday or wedding anniversary – but they will know that it was a Bank Holiday and, therefore, the Post Office was shut.
To help navigate this calendar minefield, when I wrote my last manuscript I devised a timeline. I simply got several sheets of A4 paper and wrote out my own calendar. Then I put a circle round the days when key events in my novel happened, together with a couple of words to indicate what that key event was. That way when I wrote something like, ‘It had been ten days since she had heard from him’, I know that it is definitely ten days, not nine, not eleven, but ten exactly. I have a thing about continuity and this is how I keep it going. Also, it can give a quick overview of key events so if anyone comes back to me and queries something, I can instantly refer to it.