I am in the middle of writing a novel I started ten years ago. I started it, then left it to pursue other projects. Then I started it again, and drifted away to other books. Now I’m back. The book is about an art heist that takes place in Milan, Italy and it is fun writing it and I hope it will be fun reading it. A lot of the local color I gleaned from working over there for a bank. I have memories of fancy restaurants, ancient architecture and working my butt off 12-14 hours a day! So I have an almost magisterial amount of authority when it comes to the rigors of surviving Milan!
For the book, I had to do a lot of research into quite a number of different areas: art pricing, art forgery, art history, safecracking, weapons, state-of-the-art security and a whole host of other background detail.
This is not the sort of novel you can just begin and go with the flow, wondering where it will take you and so far it’s taken meticulous planning (just as, I expect, a real heist would!). When I looked at the synopsis, I found that it was around 7,000 words in length – mostly because I included a whole bunch of reminders on background detail for myself as I went along. However, I’ve tried to write it in such a way that it I’m not hide-bound by the planning but instead make it sound at least believable and compelling.
I was talking with my friend Mike Faricy recently. He too is a novelist and he has taken the opposite approach with his novels. He sits down and begins to write and is constantly pleasantly surprised by plot turns and character development, which, of course, makes it fun to write. His novels are also fun to read, so it’s obviously a perfectly valid way of approaching novel writing – in fact I’ve used that approach with other novels I’ve written.
So the question is: when do you do meticulous planning and when do you go with the flow?