England, Italy, London, Milan, Minnesota, novel writing, organized crime, outline, Psych, St. Paul, synopsis, Uncategorized
So far I have written six novels, each of which is a standalone book. Three of them take place in the St. Paul, Minnesota and three of them are located in Europe (one in a fictitious prison camp somewhere in England, one in London and one mostly in Milan, Italy). In the past few years I haven’t written any novels at all, but instead concentrated on nonfiction and poetry. Nevertheless, I have, from time to time, tried to come up with plots that might lend themselves to a full-length novel. Here are just a few of the possible contenders:
1. A guy who is having a midlife crisis decides to quit his job and head off on a road trip across the USA. The story also involves his relationship with his father, whom he had always admired, until… he discovers a dark secret about him that changes his whole perspective. His route takes him through small towns and large cities and he has encounters with various people, including a number of weirdoes, criminals and crackpots. At one point he is held hostage during a bank robbery. The back story unfolds, as he travels, through the use of flashbacks.
Here it is unclear whether the story has “legs.” Is there enough of a basic plot to last a whole book? Possibly not. There would need to be several subplots tied to the main plot in order to make it credible as a 70k+ word novel. Also, the idea of a guys simply doing a road trip seems kind of aimless. He would need to be searching for something specific.
To my mind there are no hard and fast rules about how to plan a work of literature. But what I have found is that my method changes depending on genre. I’ve written two non-fiction books and the method I used was to get a pile of research material and read through it and while reading take notes. The notes were my reflections on the source material and were fairly detailed. Once I had finished with research I would go through my notes and categories them according to theme. Then I would rearrange the notes into section, each section representing a theme. After reviewing the themes I found that some of theme seemed to go together. So I grouped the themes into chapters and hey presto! I had the first draft of a book along with footnotes stating the sources.
But for novels I have a different method. First of all I try out a few opening scenes to see if any of them have legs. Once I’ve written a couple of chapters and I can see where the story is beginning to go I write a synopsis.
It puzzled me for years what the difference was between a working synopsis and a synopsis meant for submission to a publisher. It was only after trial and error that it dawned on me. A working synopsis tends to be more of a description of what I hope to achieve in each chapter rather than a description of what’s actually there. This makes sense if you think about it. When you’re writing a book nothing IS there to begin with because you haven’t written it yet. So when you write a synopsis you’re really giving a description of what a chapter, or part of a chapter, should achieve in terms of the overall plot.
What works for me is to create a table in MS Word with two columns: column 1 for the chapter numbers and column 2 for the synopsis of each chapter.
Each novel I’ve written has been between 28 and 32 chapters, with each chapter being somewhere between 2,400 and 2,600 words.
Another thing I do is to take a note of the number of words I write each day and keep this in a spreadsheet. It’s heartening to glance at it now and then in the course of writing to see how much I’ve written already and how far there is to go.
For one novel, “The Blood Menagerie” I even drew up a flowchart of when each character appeared and what they did. The flowchart had the characters’ names along the top and the chapter numbers down the left hand side.
The only reason I do all this is not because I’m ultra-organized. It’s just that I like fiddling about with calculations and spreadsheets and things. There’s always the danger that I spend time fiddling instead of writing. I’m still waiting ruefully for the day when I put the finishing touches to a pristine and highly complex spreadsheet and suddenly realize that I haven’t actually written anything yet…