Every writer has their own unique method of working. Over the years I’ve come to believe that there are as many ways of going about setting a story down on paper as there as stars in the sky. Recently I’ve discussed this with fellow members of the writing critique group I belong to, and after we each shared information on how we work, many of us starting to shake our heads or fold our arms. I must admit that I did the same, blocking out ideas that made me feel uncomfortable. One member writes a long short-story of his novel, and then expands it. For me there would be no fun in that, yet he works like this very effectively.
As for me? Well, here are a few of the ways in which I work when writing. Try out the ones you like, and dismiss the rest, only use what you feel comfortable with.
Firstly, when writing anything, whether it be a novel, short story or poem, I have to know the beginning and the end. Before I start to write, I have the entire end-scene in my head. Now, this doesn’t mean that my characters will end up doing, or saying, precisely the same things as I first envisaged, but it gives me a theme to work with. I do not write this end-chapter down, because that would be too constrictive. What it does give me is a strong sense of my main characters’ motivations. Why do they wish to achieve this goal? What drives them towards it? How will they achieve this outcome?
I’m currently writing a series of detective mysteries, Jake Talbot Investigates. I know Jake, and his geekie young friend, Frankie Hayward, pretty well by now. They’ve been my constant companions for a few years, yet I still maintain character profile sheets for them, as I do with all of my characters. Yes, each and every one of the people in my novels has a profile. On their profile page I write down their name, their age, a physical description, who they are associated with, such as, ‘Jake’s sister,’ what their job is, what they like to wear, why they’re appearing in this novel, what their family background is, what car they own, and so on and so forth. A lot of this information will never appear in the novel, but I need to know it: I need to feel them from the inside out.
While I’m writing and a character says or does something important, I copy and paste the excerpt into their character profile. This way I can go back and remind myself what they’ve been up to, and check whether their motivation for a particular action is in keeping with the story-line and their personality.
For example, if, way back in chapter three I have Mr X saying that he used to fancy Miss Y, when they meet in chapter twenty five, I need to show how Mr X’s previous attraction to Miss Y affects him. Does he still desire her? This may not be my main plot, but I still need to cover his reaction to seeing her again after so many years. Why did I give him this attraction to her in first place? Is it irrelevant and therefore needs to be cut? Does it carry my story forwards? Will it be played through at some point? I write detective novels, so let’s say that Mr X needs to gain information from Miss Y, therefore his previous attraction to her will make questioning her more difficult. It may well be a minor subplot, but, by keeping a character profile, and maintaining continuity, I can spice up what might otherwise have been a dull scene with a measure of conflict and tension.
If, on the other hand, I forget that Mr X has said that he used to fancy Miss Y, and he doesn’t follow through with a reaction, my readers will be sorely disappointed because my character has lost credibility. We need to constantly remind ourselves of everything, every character does. If their actions don’t move the story forwards, then cut the scene.
Lastly, I’d like to mention the dreaded post-it notes, those small yellow stickers I scribble reminders on. Way back I found it useful to purchase a large pin-board, and push-pins, so that I had somewhere to organise these moments of panic. Yes, post-it notes are panic-notes! While writing a scene, a sudden plot disaster will flash through my mind. Did I ever mention what happened to the dog? Was that issue between Jake and Superintendent Bailey ever resolved? OMG, Frankie forgot to pick up his rucksack when he left the house, so how the hell is he now opening it in the car? Yes, these little yellow squares are life-savers. I don’t want to interrupt the flow of my writing right now, by stopping and checking a detail, but I don’t want to forget to check it either. So, I jot down a note, pin it on my board, and come back to it later. By the time I’d finished writing my latest novel, Saving Anna, the entire A1 pin-board was covered in yellow notes. Before passing my work over, I took each note and checked my manuscript to ensure that the point mentioned had been covered. Those notes were not removed until we had completed editing.
Maybe you already use these methods to keep your writing on track, well-organised and free from hiccups. Or maybe you have some other ways of working that you’d like to share. If you do, then I’d love to hear about them.
Toni Allen is the author of the Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, which began with Visiting Lilly (2014) and continues with Saving Anna (2015). She is currently working on the third book, Finding Louisa, due out in 2016.
Why should a man at a Surrey police station go ballistic because someone tries to visit Lilly, his elderly grandmother?
Detective Inspector Jake Talbot is intrigued, and this little puzzle might serve to distract him from sorrows of a Christmas past. Soon he is entangled with Frankie, an odd young man who claims to have met Lilly in her youth. Talbot dismisses the notion of time travel, but then discovers the Ministry of Defence has been monitoring Frankie since his friend disappeared ten years previously. Forced to work with the MOD, Talbot unearths family secrets and betrayals. The families act ruthlessly to prevent him from discovering the facts, colluding to ruin him.
If Frankie is innocent, Talbot won’t let him be victimised. An uneasy understanding grows between them as they follow the evidence, for only the truth will allow Frankie to visit Lilly.
Visiting Lilly is available free on Kindle Unlimited
Toni is also a photographer of note, a columnist, and an acclaimed tarot reader and astrologer. She draws on her extensive experience as a psychic to bring personal awareness of the paranormal, from both the believer and non-believer’s point of view, to her Jake Talbot Investigates series.
She has had numerous non-fiction articles published, and won awards for short fiction and poetry, including a first prize awarded in a competition judged by noted mystery writer P D James. She’s the author of two bestselling books on tarot, The System of Symbols: a New Way to Look at Tarot, which is now also published in Italian by Spazio Interiore; and Sex & Tarot.
She lives in Surrey, England, where she happily includes pink grasshoppers in her macro-photography.
Visit Toni’s website www.toniallenauthor.com
She maintains a Pinterest board for her novel Saving Anna – https://uk.pinterest.com/listansus/saving-anna-by-toni-allen/