(This is an article I wrote for the lovely Melissa Holden’s “Write Advice” blog)…
So, you’ve decided you want to write a fictional novel. You have a basic storyline in your head and you know which genre you wish to use. The real work comes now.
Let me begin by stating that all writers eventually discover the best way to keep their writing head in check. As a writer myself I also went through the stage of losing track of where a character was or where to have them come in again, without disrupting the storyline. It is a hard thing to do but if you keep records of all important stages and characters then it becomes easier. Here is how I do it…
At the very beginning, when I have my idea and decided on a genre, I create a list of the characters that I will need in my story, in order to accomplish the thesis as it were. Some will be dropped as I move on and others will develop (It is important to keep your list up to date). I give them names which should reflect the nature of the person in question. I sometimes give my characters a name which has a specific meaning in a foreign language (e.g. Pengnir meaning ‘stalf’) or possibly something amusing if I wish my character to be light hearted (e.g. Willie C. Manny Mairdaise). At this stage I also insert, into my list, a small note about how they relate to the overall story in general and any initial thoughts on the character specifically.
When I have created a simple character list it is time for me to get my storyline in order. Excel is perfect for this. I tend to work with around six or seven different lead characters who all intermingle and all of whom will meet up for the finale in some form or other. Therefore it is important for me to keep track of who is supposed to be where and when. I start by getting a sheet of paper and pencil and begin listing my main characters along the top. I then make a list of all the important tasks that each one has to perform, underneath, in the order that they must do them. After that I would go through this sheet marking where each of them meet up and decide on a list of chapters, from start to finish. I know this may be daunting and does certainly take a lot of time but, as I say to everyone, the hard work is done before you even start the first chapter.
After I have everything straight in my head and on paper I will create an Excel document again putting the names of my main characters along the top of the document and ‘Freezing’ that row. This allows the top line of the document to stay fixed in position as you scroll through the document. Down the way is what I call Real Time (This being the correct order for every event to happen).
When I do go to write up the book I move chronologically. That is I start with the prelude, prologue and introduction and move on, chapter by chapter, until I get to the end. In doing this I am able to add or remove characters or plots at will with very little clear-up.
Keeping track of word count and what has happened in each chapter is solved with another lovely Excel document.
Now I know that everyone reading this has a love of words but here’s where the maths come into it. Find someone who can show you how to create tables in Excel and this will allow you to use the document, pictured above, to keep track of everything. Use this equation when you do… the number of words you have at present, divided by the number of words you wish by end of the book (this may change as you proceed), and then multiply the answer by one-hundred. This will give you the percentage of completion.
Ok, maths lesson done…
A word on maps. If you have created a new land or world for your book to be set in, whether it be an island or a galaxy, it is important to keep track of place names and where they are in relation to each other. A good map is essential in this situation.
As you go through the actual writing process you can update your map and see a clear picture of the world you are creating.
After I have spent my time building all this I am ready to write. With these documents I am able to move through my chapters with relevant ease and get to enjoy the specific writing process, without worry of making a horrible mistake that could take a donkey’s age to fix.
I do hope that in reading this that you get some idea of how you wish to proceed. As I said at the start, everyone has their own way of doing things and you will find your way as you move through your writing career. Take from this article what you can and, if you find that this process is not for you, you will, I’m sure, find your own way.
Lastly… a quick word on grammar. As a writer it is good to learn but not essential to be perfect. I know that my grammar is disgraceful; being a dyslexic but isn’t that what editors are for. It is more important that you get your theme, feel of the book and message through to your reader and keeping things clear in your own head is crucial to that. If you’re unsure about something that is happening then so will the reader.
Above all keep writing and keep reading.