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Stumbling novice notes

After my experiences of the last few months and the knowledge I have gained from this site, I have resolved to approach writing my next novel (yes ha ha there’s nothing like enthusiasm!)  in a new and less haphazard way.  I plan first to make sure the hook is great (thank you Harry for  the excellent lectures on this site).  Then I will write the synopsis and use it as a plan.  Then I will use what I am calling my ‘jeopardy ladder’ for my protagonist to make sure I know exactly how and when I intend to tighten the tension throughout.  I am succeeding in my aim to complete my novel to a high standard I hope, but I’ve made life harder for myself than it maybe needed to be.  Those are my random thoughts for the day.   Now it’s back down to work.  Do any of you have ideas that have worked or not worked for you?


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Replies (14)
  • Ages ago ( I can't find it now) harry published a plot-document that helps plot out characters, key scenes etc which I used for my next project - very helpful.

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    • I used the same, Danny. Really useful, especially if your have a brain stuffed with cotton wool, as I do 😂

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    • I wrote my first couple of books in a haphazard way but found I just had to go back and do a lot of rewriting/replotting because it's made such a hash of things. 

      I think you're approach is very sensible and will hopefully have you a lot of work in the long run 😄

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      • What Lynn said.

        Harder is a perspective thing. Yes, plotting makes it "harder" to complete a first draft. But how "easy" is it to untangle a haphazard first draft into the equivalent standard of a planned first draft?

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        • What Lynn said.

          Harder is a perspective thing. Yes, plotting makes it "harder" to complete a first draft. But how "easy" is it to untangle a haphazard first draft into the equivalent standard of a planned first draft?

          In my case it’s more about adding something here and there than changing the plot altogether, thank goodness. The manuscript assessment I had back said I am almost there (still lots to improve though!). I would approach in a more analytical, less instinctive way in future but that’s part of the learning curve I think.  I was a ballet teacher in my working life and you can’t just walk in and ‘do stuff’, you have to develop the muscles and control to do it by working.  Writing is similar in a way perhaps.  Patience and effort counts.

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          • Absolutely, especially to the "more analytical next time." My first book, I knew my opening scene and what I wanted as a resolution, and away we go. Now, before I write a word of the second chapter (the first may be just thrown out there to get a feel for where it starts), I will have an obsessively detailed outline, with a breakdown of chapters, acts within those, sub-acts, target wordcounts, and the beat-level structure. (Comes up for breath.) Okay, maybe I'm more detailed than most, but I've heard of a lot of writers becoming more structured as they mature; I don't remember hearing of any who became less structured…

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          • Anything is worth a try.  I find it very difficult to write a synopsis before I've finished the book because although I usually know the characters and the beginning and the end I rarely know in advance how I'm going to proceed to get to the denouement, apart from a few key scenes.  And sometimes one of the characters takes over a bit and my plot line goes squiffy.  At which point, as Rick says, it has to be untangled but that's kind of therapeutic too!

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            • Anything is worth a try.  I find it very difficult to write a synopsis before I've finished the book because although I usually know the characters and the beginning and the end I rarely know in advance how I'm going to proceed to get to the denouement, apart from a few key scenes.  And sometimes one of the characters takes over a bit and my plot line goes squiffy.  At which point, as Rick says, it has to be untangled but that's kind of therapeutic too!

              Anything is worth a try - so true!

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            • My first manuscript took me two and a half years. My second took me just over 6 months. 

              Before writing the second, I had written the basic idea as a prologue chapter within the first book. The writing then became, in essence, growing the 'seed' chapter into a novel.

              One other thing that helped me plan and execute my writing was to sort out an easy-to-use organising system.

              I've always found mind-mapping useful in terms of organising and developing ideas and seeing the connections between ideas. I recommend iThoughts if you use Apple products. Scrivener has Scapple, but I've not been impressed with it when I tried the trial.

              Although some of these mind-mapping apps can be great, they can take time to learn and become proficient at. I wanted something more immediate and tactile. One day I put up a magnetic whiteboard on an 'out of the way' wall (so that others don't have to look at it every day).


              image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=317&dpx=1&t=1607125781


              Now I plot my book by writing short descriptions of scenes onto post-its and placing small magnets on each one. The post-its are colour-coded by content or character involved. The post-it's are then arranged in three lines - Act 1, Act 2 and Act3, which each line headed by a basic description of that Act. I have blue magnets to signify where the plot points occur. When I've written a scene, I usually affix a small sticker to the relevant post-it note. I use white post-its as a kind of 'place holder' scene - when I'm sketching out a framework, but am not exactly sure about the perspective or content. Eventually the white post-its will be replaced by coloured ones as I sure up my ideas.


              The photo shows my set-up for book 3 (the 3 lines at the top of the board). I get immediate visual feedback on the structure of my work. I can see that Act 1 is about 25% of the book and Act 2 is twice that. Getting that right helps me with general structuring and pacing. Below the horizontal bar is my initial planning and set-up for book 4. To the right is a set of post-its that have disconnected scene ideas that relate to either the book series as a whole or is stuff for later books.

              It's easy to shift scenes around this way and you can add stickers for things like foreshadowing and reveals or make other types of connections using markers.

              I don't write in a linear way - sometimes I wake up and have a new insight about something or have a particular scene fill my head. Planning in this way means I can write scenes and make the connections between in a more organic manner. 

              Hope this helps someone!

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              • Dan, this looks like a genius idea! I might just treat myself to a magnetic whiteboard for Christmas... 😁 

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                • My first manuscript took me two and a half years. My second took me just over 6 months. 

                  Before writing the second, I had written the basic idea as a prologue chapter within the first book. The writing then became, in essence, growing the 'seed' chapter into a novel.

                  One other thing that helped me plan and execute my writing was to sort out an easy-to-use organising system.

                  I've always found mind-mapping useful in terms of organising and developing ideas and seeing the connections between ideas. I recommend iThoughts if you use Apple products. Scrivener has Scapple, but I've not been impressed with it when I tried the trial.

                  Although some of these mind-mapping apps can be great, they can take time to learn and become proficient at. I wanted something more immediate and tactile. One day I put up a magnetic whiteboard on an 'out of the way' wall (so that others don't have to look at it every day).


                  image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=317&dpx=1&t=1607125781


                  Now I plot my book by writing short descriptions of scenes onto post-its and placing small magnets on each one. The post-its are colour-coded by content or character involved. The post-it's are then arranged in three lines - Act 1, Act 2 and Act3, which each line headed by a basic description of that Act. I have blue magnets to signify where the plot points occur. When I've written a scene, I usually affix a small sticker to the relevant post-it note. I use white post-its as a kind of 'place holder' scene - when I'm sketching out a framework, but am not exactly sure about the perspective or content. Eventually the white post-its will be replaced by coloured ones as I sure up my ideas.


                  The photo shows my set-up for book 3 (the 3 lines at the top of the board). I get immediate visual feedback on the structure of my work. I can see that Act 1 is about 25% of the book and Act 2 is twice that. Getting that right helps me with general structuring and pacing. Below the horizontal bar is my initial planning and set-up for book 4. To the right is a set of post-its that have disconnected scene ideas that relate to either the book series as a whole or is stuff for later books.

                  It's easy to shift scenes around this way and you can add stickers for things like foreshadowing and reveals or make other types of connections using markers.

                  I don't write in a linear way - sometimes I wake up and have a new insight about something or have a particular scene fill my head. Planning in this way means I can write scenes and make the connections between in a more organic manner. 

                  Hope this helps someone!

                  I’m very impressed with this Dan.  It looks straightforward, adaptable and as comprehensive as anyone wants to make it.  I think I might treat myself to a whiteboard, magnets and post it notes.  Thanks for the tip.

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                • So impressive!  Thanks for that.

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                  • My Kids would just mix everything up and stick pictures of youtubers and Dua Lipa all over it = of that last bit might be me actually...

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                    • 😂Dan, that looks amazing. I don’t think I have a spare wall big enough for one of those boards but my life in general is prompted by random post-it notes. Danny I think there would be huge potential for “jokes” from the kids if I dared to leave my work out in public like that. 

                      I have a brain like a pinball machine so my writing tends to be very haphazard and tangential like everything else I do (Thank the Lord for an organised husband!) but since finding JW I have started to get a bit more structure and discipline, I think I may have “found the plot” for my book, which is great as I spend most of my life losing it.😂

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