Planning a novel – a personal experience

When I began to think of writing a novel I knew little of the plethora of advice out there for aspiring authors. I was not aware of websites, forums or magazines for writers. I knew there were creative writing course and I taught how to plan stories at work, but never considered attending a course or a conference. Maybe they were already in existence, but for me writing was an individual art. I felt alone with my pen and paper. I wrote long hand and typed it up later on my laptop. I was only allowed a laptop, unusual in those days, but I could hide it away when it was not in use, so that it didn’t offend or take up space in our small maisonette.

 I did however enrol with ‘The Writer’s Bureaux’ but unfortunately had little spare time of my own to follow the course to its end. Nevertheless I found the box of useful tools invaluable.

How did I begin planning?

The inspiration for ‘Riduna’ came to me when I was standing on the Butes overlooking Braye Bay on Alderney, thinking of my Great Grandmother Harriet. I remember saying to myself, ‘Yes, I will write the essence of your story as a tribute to your life.’ As I’ve often said since, I knew very little about the true story of my great Grandmother at that time –see ‘Family History’, my January 7th 2010 blog but my first thoughts were:

  • What was it really like for Harriet to live on Alderney in the nineteenth century when it was overrun by red-coated soldiers?
  • Who were the people she grew up with?
  • How did she learn to dance?
  • What did she do that was so terrible that she was sent away?
  • What did it feel like to leave the island of her birth?
  • Where did she go?
  • Who did she go with and in what ways did it change her life?

I suppose these questions formed the skeleton of my first story plan. Unconventional I know but there it was. The following summer I began to research, filling in background information and substance to my ‘plan.’

I didn’t write down notes on plots and subplots. I didn’t write pages on descriptions of characters, neither did I agonise over conflict and resolution.

What did I do next?

Once I had carried out substantial research I allowed the characters to speak for themselves. They flowed from my imagination sharing every element of their joy, feeling empathy for the depth of their despair, grieving, praying and sleeping with them. They filled my life until the agony of my own life’s problems took over and the story was left for quite some time in a metaphorical cupboard.

Over the next few years I returned to the novel on several occasions, each time following a visit to carry out more research. I never entirely let it go, so that when I finally had the time and the inclination to complete ‘Riduna’ I found only a few gaps in the story which I endeavoured to fill, including the story’s final chapter which I was reluctant to write. In fact I ended up writing two versions before I chose the one which I felt was the most apt, leaving the reader with closure but also giving them free reign to use their own imagination.

I was relieved, last year, when I heard another author speak at a Book Fair, saying that they too carried out little detailed plans before they began to write. They allowed the story to tell itself.

Have I learnt anything from this experience?

Yes, certainly. Since ‘Riduna’ was published I have listened to author’s speak at conferences. I have subscribed to a Writer’s magazine and read copious blogs and articles on the internet about planning and writing in general. I have listened, but I don’t like rules on the whole. Having said that I know that I have taken on board some of the advice I have read when writing my second novel.

Have I planned the sequel in a different way?

 Yes I have, but I’m afraid that’s a blog in the future.

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Filed under Alderney, History of Alderney, Planning a novel, Writing, Writing a novel

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