If you are embarking on writing a novel, where do you start?
You have an idea for a story, maybe you are clear on who your main character will be but how do you develop this into a great novel?
To plan or not to plan
I did this course in creative writing many years ago and they suggested that the way to write a novel was to plan it out, chapter by chapter, before you even started writing. So you would be deciding on your storyline blow by blow and any sub-plots too.
I tried it with my first novel and really struggled with it. It felt like I was forcing the story out rather than it flowing from my mind onto the keyboard effortlessly which is how I think it should be. For me each chapter is there to move the story on but it also has to have an interesting angle – maybe it’s the setting – to keep the reader’s attention.
Creating an interesting angle
There’s a chapter in Unlikely Neighbours where George (retired policeman, age 55, married to Sheila) carefully builds an air fix model which he smashes to pieces at the end of the chapter. This demonstrates how he feels about his gay son in a more interesting way than just having him arguing with his wife or telling a friend.
So, going back to mapping out your whole novel, it requires a lot of creativity in one chunk of time to decide on all the intricacies of the plot. At the start of writing Unlikely Neighbours I hadn’t even decided that George and Sheila had a gay son but as the story evolved it worked because it provided cracks in their marriage which is where I wanted the story to go.
So you see I make it up as I go along.
Back of an envelope planning
For Unlikely Neighbours, once I had my idea I got an A4 sheet of paper and divided it into 4 sections. I wrote the names of each of the four unlikely neighbours and for at least two of them decided where they started the story and where they ended up. I then drew arrows between the households with some ideas of how they would interact.
The point is, that this was my plan. And it was all the planning I did. And then, you’ve guessed it, I made it up as I went along.
Photo by Nationaal Archief