Monday, May 29, 2017

Don't Use The Seat Of Your Pants, Use a Keyboard Like Me

This is an entry in the Thanet Creative Writers Competition; if this interests you then you can follow that previous link to their blog, or this one to go to the reddit page created for it and find other entires to vote for if you like them. There will be a short advertisment at the end of this post.

Plotting or Pantsing: What is best for me?

It's plotting.


What, you want more? Okay.

Here's a scan of an A4 sheet of paper I had as my plan for writing a novel. (Click on it to make it bigger) The first picture is the relationship and brief character descriptions for the suspects in the murder mystery that would take up the first third of the book. At the top is the question that drives the story: Who Killed Lord Allenmore And Why?

Other notable features of this page include the seating arrangements for the dinner party scene, the word count for the first few days before I decided to record them elsewhere and a few other notes ("Coronation", "Off course betting illegal", and "Canoodling") that I scribbled there because the sheet was to hand and I wanted to write them down before I forgot.

How did I use this page? Essentially, whenever a character appeared I would glance at their motive and relationship and decide what information they would give; when reviewing a scene I would ask if what they said and did was consistent with the details on this page and also check that a motive and whereabouts had explained at some point.

Now the reverse side. At the top the three acts of the novel. Then a list of the events that need to occur in the first act, in the approximate order they would occur in. It's not quite a scene-by-scene breakdown; there are more scenes in the finished work, and some events span more than one scene. However essentially everything that I've noted there occurs in about that order.

At the bottom, upside down, are a few things to remember. So you don't have to stand on your head they say:

Storm? Cutoff?
Telegrams? conflict! (between being cutoff and telegrams. I did not cut them off in the final story.)

The Murder Weapon
- Missing?
- Occult Links?
- Seance!
Marzipan

Servants - Class
ignored? - noticed by Schneemann?

Clothes - Edwardian Casual
Food - Kitchen disrupted
Wigs, makeup, disguise
Cigars - Diving Helmet!

Not all of these elements made it into the final writing (the marzipan and diving helmet are nowhere to be seen and although there is a threat of a seance, it did not occur until Act 3). One of the servants, not noted amongst the list of people, went on to become a major character in the story.

My plotting is not so much a blueprint as a framework to hang things on. I knew I wanted a parlour scene because it's a classic mystery denouement, and I had some good jokes for it. Exactly what would be revealed, who would be accused, what the solution was - all that was up for grabs. "The Police" appears once on the sheet, and relatively late, but they are major drivers of the plot, forcing people to declare their innocence, investigating things better left undiscovered, trampling the flowerbeds looking for the weapon.

In fact when I sat down to write (not the first scene, which I had previously written as an exercise, so I began on page three, always a nice feeling) I hadn't decided on the killer; at least two and possibly four of them were in the frame. I intended to choose whoever seemed appropriate at the time.

Or in other words I was going to improvise, create the solution by the seat of my pants, and then edit the clues to make sense in the second draft. That's the way to write, leaving it all open, a space in which to just let loose.

Might be worth noting that my ideas for Act 2 when I started writing Act 1 were - heist, seven statues, boss, apprentice, crew, villains, chase, vault, misdirection. By the time I got there I had several pieces of paper like the ones you see here.

Act 3 was - Things Get Weird. CONFRONTATION WITH THE BAD GUY.

There you go.

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The novel that emerged from this planning some four and a half drafts later is an Edwardian comedy crime story called The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman and is available at Amazon.co.uk for both Kindle ebook and in paperback. Before you rush off and buy it, a friend is currently giving it a solid line reading to try and make things like capitalisation and punctuation consistent so I shall be creating a new version of it, hopefully towards the end of June. The ebook will update when that happens; any paperbacks printed before that will, sadly, have both missing and unecessary commas. The book can be purchased here.

1 comment:

ProfBenj said...

Whaddya know? A piece that's actually full of REAL information about how the author writes. And a REAL link to a REAL book! I have to confess I also have A4 sheets like these, but I often can't quite remember why I wrote some of the entries. I'll wait for the update on your ebook, so eventually I might find our WhoDunnit. Thanks.