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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Getting that Novel STARTED! How to kick procrastination

If there's one thing I'm great at, it's starting a novel. Finishing it presents a far greater challenge! And then there's the middle of the middle section - ARGH!

But in the last two years I've developed a system (yes, an organised system) that helps me:
  • Develop the characters so that I really know them
  • develop and maintain plot elements such as tension
  • keep track of those tiny but important details readers will complain about
  • not lose my head
  • reduce stress
  • make it simpler, easier and more transportable
  • allow me to jot down ideas in a way that I can actually FIND them again

Sound good?

So,what do you need?
1. Buy a white board.
Doesn't have to be big. Also some whiteboard markers and a rub out thingy. You can hang the whiteboard on the wall, sit it on an easel and take it to other rooms when you feel like a change of scenery. Last year I wrote an 86,000 word novel in five months using this method. Normally it would take at least a year, perhaps two.
2. Buy a box of index cards. I bought a 500 pack.
3. Buy blu-tac to stick the index cards on the whitebaord
4. Draw up Michael Hauge's six stage plot outline, on the board itself or a sheet of paper to keep handy. (see below)
5. Print out character profile sheets for each character. I bind mine all together in booklet form for easy access.

So what's the method?
6. Divide the whiteboard up into three sections. You can use colour to help you keep track. I bought stick-on tabs.
7.Start filling in what you know about the basic plot elements. If you can condense it down to these questions, its helps:
  • who is the main character? (describe them in about five adjectives)
  • what is their main goal and why? (their motivation, what they want most dearly)
  • what obstacle/person stands in the way of this goal? (is it their fear of something? an enemy?)
  • how does the character overcome this obstacle? (what changes does the character have to make in order to achieve their goal?)
8. Every time you get an idea for a scene, write in on an index card. Even if its for another book! File the 'other' cards away under the headings STORY IDEAS and CHARACTERS.
9. Place a small box or pile of spare index cards by your bed for those late night inspirations that will surely vanish by morning if you don't write them down! I made this one out of an empty tissue box.
10. Keep a bunch of spare cards in your bag or car. I made a neat little purse thingy which holds a pen too.

11. Begin to fill in the character profiles as you get to know your characters and their lives. This is CRUCIAL for keeping track of their history, motivation, little telltale habits they have, how they feel about other characters and why, physical characteristics that are important etc.

Below are the sections I use, after years of gleaning bits and pieces from all over the place:

 12. As scenes pop into your head, decide which of the three sections they'd fit into - is it setup? Major development? Major inciting incident? Aftermath? You can add a little stick-on tab in the relevant colour and then adhere it to the whiteboard with blu-tac. ***** The beauty of these is that if you change your mind about the order of scenes, you can move them around the board. You don't have to keep it all inside your head!

13. When you get to the crisis point - for me, about 3/4 of the way through - you have clear direction. If you're still stuck, you go back to the character profiles and figure out how they would react and why. this guides your next scene and subsequent scenes.
14. VOILA! I am a converted 'Pantser.' Instead of dashing along with the Muse until she loses interest and buggers off, (by the seat of my pants writing) I now have control and yet still retain that delicious feeling of inspiration and willful divergence, should I so desire. (Planned writing). Try it! It has worked so beautifully for me that I teach it in my workshops now.

I just wish I'd known about this sooner...

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