Plotting and Planning – To Be Or Not To Be?
Even when I was writing short stories, and I started writing them when I was about nine years old, I never planned a story in my life.
Often I started with no more than a title, as in the case of ‘White Shroud of Death,’ which has not been offered for publication yet. But I ended up writing a full-length novel, set against Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Borodino in 1817, and his subsequent capture of the city of Moscow. And not one word of it was planned.
In the case of the Mason Thurlow series of 12 novels, all I had to start with was his name, which seemed like a good name for a character. so I wrote him into a story I wrote back in the 1980’s, which was rejected; actually, it was the only story I’ve ever written that was rejected, so my planning – or lack of it – must work out ok; or more of them would’ve been rejected, huh? Anyway, I resurrected old Mason again in about 2009, and away we went with the series, until I reached a point, in novel 12, where I had put the poor guy through every imaginable disaster, and the only logical thing I could do with him was kill him off. So I did. And even as I was writing the penultimate chapter, I had no idea it would be his last appearance.
Then there was the DeVayne series – again, I haven’t offered them to Rebecca yet; we’ll get finished with Mason first, and then worry about them; what I had to start with was an image, in my mind, of a werewolf, hanging by one arm from the steeple of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. That became a 20,000 word short story. Then I decided it would make a good novel, so I rewrote it and stretched it to 100,000 words. My publisher at the time said: “It’s too long for an ebook; cut it in half and make two of it and we’ll publish.” So, again, I did…and then wrote another four to follow, making a 6-novel series of it.
But I do not plan, plot, scheme or otherwise create evil in advance; when I sit down at the computer, as I said, the words begin to flow – and away we go.
So if somebody tells you “You must plan in advance or your novel won’t work out,” don’t necessarily accept it as face; then again, don’t accept it as wrong either. I think it depends on the particular writer which way they want to do it.
Now, what I MUST say, is that in the ‘twilight’ of my life – I’m 69 years old at the moment – I’ve finally become what I always wanted to be: a novelist. And before that, I put in 27 years of part-time internal and external university studies which, I believe, has polished my writing to a point where I can happily say “Rejection Slips don’t exist ’round here.”
But the person I give the most credit for turning me into a writer is a teacher named Mr Campbell, back when I was about 10 or 11 years old: while the rest of the class was working on their mathematics or history or social studies, I would tear out the middle pages of my exercise book, and get into writing a story. Mr Campbell would walk, with his hands behind his back, between the rows of desks, peering over each student’s shoulder at their work. But when he got to me, he knew I was never going to make a mathematician or social studies nut – history is a different matter as all my novels are set against a specific time-period – so he just ignored my ‘sin’ and let me write. And if I were to meet Mr Campbell today, I would happily give him all I possess, if he wants it. I figure I owe it to him.
So that’s the story, folks. My characters might do a mountain of plotting and scheming, but their creator? No way! So if it works for you, go for it – who’s to say it won’t work out right?
How do I do that? Well, I sit down at my computer, and start typing, and the words – and the plot – just seem to flow, from where I do not have the faintest idea. I write – or type – until I run out of things to say, usually around 10 – 10.30am; then stop. And I don’t think about the story again until 5am the next morning – when I sit down at the computer again, and look out! here come the words!
Sometimes I have to go back and change what I’ve already written, so it will fit with what i’m writing at the moment, but that’s a minor problem, and easily fixed. Then I plough on with the story until I reach a point where it seems logical I’ve done all I can with that particular story, so I end it.