Fail to prepare …

So I’ve started work on the next book, wasting no time. I thought it would be fun to keep you all updated with progress reports, all under the banner of ‘Lifting the Lid’.

So far I have sketched out a rough plan and finished first drafts of the prologue and chapter one. This is as good a point as any to talk about planning.

When I started ‘The Endless Circle’ the most plan I really had was a scribbled page of notes. My initial comment was along the lines of: “Two brothers find a stranger in the woods. They must get him back to his own country.” I guess it says something for the strength of the idea that this is essentially what the book is still about.

Underneath I sketched out my three acts: beginning, middle and end. I had already decided that the book was going to be short (!) so for each act I allotted three chapters, thinking this gave the whole thing a nice shape. I then filled in each of these chapters with what would happen. This is more or less what I ended up with:

Act 1
Chapter 1 – Find the stranger in the woods.
Chapter 2 – Find out more about him.
Chapter 3 – The stranger is taken. They follow him.

Act 2
Chapter 4 – Adventures in the Greenweald.
Chapter 5 – Adventures in the Greenweald.
Chapter 6 – Arrive at Padascel.

Act 3
Chapter 7 – Look for the stranger.
Chapter 8 – Find the stranger.
Chapter 9 – Rescue him and bring him home.

Now, this is more or less the structure of the book (barring fine details), and it is how the structure remained throughout. Yes, I changed a lot, but the bare bones remained the same throughout.

This is a good first lesson on planning:

1. Remember that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. This may seem like primary-school stuff, but it’s true. Ignore this at your peril.

2. Make your 3-act plan, and stick to it. I cannot emphasise this enough. Getting the whole story more or less in place in your head will give you something to aim for in those moments when inspiration dries up and you don’t have the words any more. Sure, your muse may have gone, but you can still plug away, thrash out something, then polish it later when you feel more inspired. But don’t deviate. Or don’t deviate too much. You all saw what happened when I took pity on a character and decided not to kill him: I got bogged down in details and missed what was happening in the story. Sometimes your inspirations will be strokes of genius. Just be prepared to throw away six months’ worth of work if they’re not.

3. Make sure your story is about something. This one is tricky, as we’re talking themes, and themes can quite easily get in the way of plot. The plot is the engine that drives the car of your story; the themes are the route you decide to take. They are related, but don’t let one detract from the other. Too much theme and you’re meandering here and there, taking in so many ideas that your reader can’t cope. Not enough, and it’s dull, boring, and repetitive. So make sure you have a point to what you’re writing. Then you will be able to give your characters proper motivation.

Ok. I think that’s enough. I will talk more about plot and character next time.

Until then … Enjoy.

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