Starting from scratch

The new book is out there, the marketing ongoing and now it’s time to start the next project.

So – where to begin?

I usually have a few ideas knocking around all the time but I try not to delve too deeply into them until the current project is complete. I have a very short attention span so it’d be dangerous to be honest – I’d never finish anything. Instead, I’ll jot down a “word sketch” of the idea then leave it alone until I’m ready so that the characters are silenced until I’m ready to listen. Probably sounds crazy, but it’s the only way to describe it.

The first real step in my writing process this time around has been to thoroughly plan out the while story before I start writing properly. I studied screenwriting earlier this year where I was introduced to the concept of a “treatment”. This means you write down what is going to happen and when for the whole novel – almost like a short version of the story. I recall reading somewhere that James Cameron’s treatment for the first Terminator film ran to 17 pages. Only once he was happy with the treatment did he start on the actual script.

I stick with the screenwriting concept and divide up the novel into 5 parts. I know everyone talks about the ‘3 act’ concept but I find that for me, dividing the middle section into three parts helps break down the work and makes the planning stage easier. A former creative writing tutor championed this method – if you struggle with the enormity of the middle section, then breaking it down into its own beginning, middle and end (the ‘lift’ into the final part), often works wonders.

Once those 5 parts are sketched out and the treatment is complete, I’ll start breaking out each part into chapters. This is the stage where I start asking questions about the characters and plot – why? how? when? – the usual things which identify the driving force behind each character and the impact their actions have.

Once that’s done I’ll end up with 30-40 bite sized chunks which will eventually develop into fully fledged chapters.

The system isn’t perfect, and I’ll tweak things as I go, but it means I’ll get to the end of the first draft a lot quicker.

And NaNoWriMo is just around the corner…

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