Starting my next cop novel…how I plan a novel

New Year – new novel.

I’m planning my next DCI Matt Proctor crime novel, number three in the series and I’d like to share my approach to “PLANNING A NOVEL”.

How do you put your novel together? Please let me know.

I’ll set out my approach in separate blogs – this is the FIRST. There are SEVEN in all. 

From the outset let me say say I’m more a ‘planner’ than a ‘pantser’- but please, you ‘pantsers’ out there, don’t tune out now – we can all learn from each other. (I wonder if there really are out and out ‘pantsers’ or ‘planners’ – or are most of us somewhere in between on a spectrum?)


PLANNERS                  IN-BETWEENERS               PANTSERS


I may be a planner but one who leaves space for the story to breathe, to bend and flex, change direction at times. Yet the CORE story line remains.

PLANNING A NOVEL

I need to know my story plot(s) in detail, understand the motivations, secrets and fears of my main characters before I can progress to writing my first draft. From my outline, I develop scenes and flesh out characters. The process is very much iterative, synergistic. I hop from one to another; adding to my character profiles, summarising a scene in a brief heading, modifying and reordering the outline chronology using a ‘scene order’ grid, to get a visual overview of the book.

LUMIA - kINVER, JANE, MY DESK 2014 077

‘SCENE’ TAB OPEN – SCENE ‘HEADS’ ON RIGHT – MAIN PLOT/SUB-PLOTS COLOUR CODED

A great tool for doing this is Microsoft OneNote. Some swear by Scrivener, Ywriter; another good tool is Hiveword. There are others. I think writers need to experiment to find out what suits them best. Two factors influencing my choice are a), the ability to write the book content within the planning tool, and b), to work offline sometimes – I may be on holiday and want a hour or so of ‘writing therapy’ but might not want to go on-line, or have available on-line access.

By giving me an overview and instant access to the components of my story on a single screen, I get control of the project and so I find the process of drilling down into the ‘core’ of my story easier, more efficient and fulfilling. Certainly much less frustrating than switching from one screen to another, hunting down folders and files, hopping back and forth from page to page on websites and between different websites.   ARRRGH…

LUMIA - kINVER, JANE, MY DESK 2014 076

CHARACTER TAB OPEN – SELECT CHARACTER ON RIGHT – DETAILS LEFT

  • In planning my novel I use seven COMPONENTS.  They are not written in a strict chronology – that’s important. They have synergy, they feed off each other. Maybe it’s like bringing up a family – you don’t focus all your energy on one child and when that job’s done, move on to the next. Oh, no, – you don’t bring kids up like that. You juggle, you compromise, negotiate, discipline, encourage, motivate, and so on. You spread your attention, your focus, your love. (OK, OK, we didn’t have seven children but you get the picture!). Now – please let me show you in specific terms how all this works (and for me it definitely does) in practice.

THE SEVEN COMPONENTS OF ‘PLANNING A NOVEL’

  1. CORE – Who is the Main Character, what’s their goal, problem, obstacles, what are the stakes for failure? In 50 words; yes, I keep this to 50 words. Concentrates the mind!
  2. OUTLINE – Two pages max. Written in present tense, with a start, middle and end. Split into key scenes with short headings. Leave room for the story to evolve.
  3. MAIN PLOT – Spine of the story, the heart of the MC’s journey. Sub-plots add complexity and richness. The main plot (and sub-plots) summaries need only be a sentence or two.
  4. SCENES – Scenes are the building blocks of the novel. These are where the action is. As you write scenes you are writing your book.
  5. CHARACTERS – Absolutely critical. The reader must care about these people.
  6. SETTINGS – Give ‘colour’, atmosphere, they complement characterisation, add credibility and context whether real or fictional places.
  7. SYNOPSIS – Comes at the end because a synopsis is a ‘selling’ tool; your book summary. You write a synopsis when you’ve finished your book. (I include it as part of planning because you’ll need it for submissions).

COMPONENTS

in this first blog in the series, I’ll focus on my starting COMPONENT in PLANNING A NOVEL, namely the CORE of my story. 

 1 (of 7). CORE – a basic idea.

  • CORE – Who is the Main Character, what’s their goal, problem, obstacles, what are the stakes for failure? In 50 words; yes, I keep this to 50 words. Concentrates the mind!

Q.  What is in that CORE as a novel writing idea?

A.  Main Character with a Goal, facing tough Opponents, hitting Insurmountable Obstacles, and under threat, using their Sole Abilities to win through.

Here’s the CORE of my novel IN IT FOR THE MONEY.

‘DCI Matt Proctor fights to break an  international ‘match-fixing’ gambling syndicate and becomes their kill target when he gets too close. Serbian Mafia boss Petrovic hunts him – yet real power lies in sports boardrooms, directors’ boxes and wheeler-dealer agents. Matt Proctor is a marked man.’

Think of an apple, a pear. The core is where that fruit started. In that core are seeds. And in the core of your novel are the seeds that will grow your novel. Define that core in no more than 50 words – keep those words in front of you – and then let the seeds grow.

Coming up NEXT. What’s the future gig?

COMPONENT NUMBER 2

2 (OF 7) OUTLINE

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Goodreads is a great place for readers and writers – have a look.

I’ve been answering questions on Goodreads and I thought I’d share them with others here.  I hope you will contact me here or via Goodreads with your questions and comments please. Thanks, Tom
Power pole down blocks Railway Place Coburg
Power pole down blocks Railway Place Coburg (Photo credit: Gavin Anderson)
Tom Bryson I don’t suffer from the dreaded WB. I think that’s because of my approach to novel-writing. Once I have the nugget of an idea I write a short 2 – 4 pages outline of the book. I develop character profiles for the main and some minor characters. From that I write short scene summaries – not all, I leave a lot or room for the story to breathe. Now I write my first draft. Then I rewrite, rewrite, edit, edit!
Because I have a plan to follow I find the words soon flow. I suspect if I didn’t do this I’d probably hit a brick wall and become demotivated. I know many writers detest the idea of outlining, planning, etc considering it stifles the creative juices. I understand that – but I’ll stick with my tried and tested method – no WB that way. Hope that helps!
Tom Bryson I’m revising a novel I wrote a while back titled BLOOD RED RABBIT. The story is about ordinary people who become extraordinary in the face of great traumas and life shattering experiences. Set in Northern Ireland, the story is about redemption and love across the sectarian divide in a post ‘Peace Agreement’ era when past grievances still haunt the present. I hope to finish it later this year. Please check out my website for details.
Thanks, Tom
COVER BRR2
Tom Bryson From news articles. To research IN IT FOR THE MONEY I set up Google alerts on match/spot fixing, cricket, football corruption. However, the sporting context is a backcloth to show relationships in a crime thriller.  Those who detest sport especially after a summer fest of World Cup and other events can rest assured – this book will not add to your misery but give you a good crime thriller read!

Newspapers B&W (2)
Newspapers B&W (2) (Photo credit: NS Newsflash)