Getting Started – How To Plan Your Writing

If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re interested in writing and because you’d probably like to try writing something a bit more ambitious than a shopping list or memo!

Despite what you might see in the movies, writers never sit down with a pen and notepad and dash off a best seller! It just doesn’t work that way.

Writing requires planning and preparation.

Writing requires discipline.

Planning

Begin with a brief synopsis of what you intend to write. We’ll work on the premise that you’re writing fiction, although many of these points apply equally to non-fiction.

The synopsis should include:

  • The beginning
  • The end
  • At least one scene

This way, you know where you’ll be starting and where you’re hoping to go. Including one scene in your synopsis helps you to focus on your characters and plot.

Words

With more than a million words in the English language, there’s sure to be the exact word you need for every possible situation. So don’t be lazy! You owe it to your readers to choose the precise word for the job.

Preparation

Ideas

If you intend to write, you should carry a small notebook with you – everywhere you go. You just never know when you’re likely to:

  • See an ideal setting for your book
  • Overhear a snippet of dialogue that sparks ideas for a scene
  • Witness an exchange between individuals that could become the pivotal scene in your book
  • See an interesting face/hairstyle/expression that could be used
  • Read a notice/newspaper headline/piece of graffiti that could be worked into your plot

Inspiration is all around you.

Names

Make a note of surnames that you come across – carry a small, indexed book for this and enter names in alphabetical order for ease of reference later.

As you enter a name in your book, make a note of your ideas at the time (is this a good name for a villain, a hero, a background character etc) and note your reasons.

Locations

Keep a file of maps and tourist guides to locations that you can use in your book. Tourist guides give you details about climate, temperatures, places of interest, industries etc.

If you’re using real places in your book, they MUST be accurate – nothing will turn off readers more than obvious inaccuracies. A basic example – if your story is set in Australia, the currency is dollars and cents, not pounds and pence. Errors such as these indicate sloppiness and carelessness and detract from the impact of your work. The Internet has made it so easy to research these days – there is no excuse.

If you’re using imaginary settings for your book, be consistent. Draw a map of your locations, pencil in distances, geographic features etc and then refer to this during your writing. That way you won’t have one scene where your heroine strolls between the church and her home in ten minutes and another where it takes the hero ten minutes to drive the same distance while being pursued by villains on motorcycles.

Characters

Write biographies for your main characters.

Even if you don’t use all the information in the book, it helps you to present your characters as rounded, when you have an idea about their family background, education, likes and dislikes etc.

Include:

  • Age
  • Appearance
  • Occupation
  • Income
  • Education
  • Marital state
  • Recent relationships
  • Children/siblings
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Favourite music
  • Hobbies/pastimes
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Special characteristics (movement, speech, laugh etc)
  • Favourite sayings
  • Idiosyncrasies

Discipline

Learn to write to a timetable

Get into a routine and begin writing at the same time each day (you’ll know whether you’re an early morning person, or a late starter – go with what suits you).

Record the number of words you write – aim for a minimum of 350 words in each hourly session. Some days the words will flow rapidly and you’ll have your target in a few minutes. Other days will require more effort! Don’t get up until you’ve achieved whatever target you’ve set for yourself.

If the ideas are flowing, stay put and get them down while you can.

Never interrupt the flow of words

That means that you don’t edit as you go. If there’s a passage you feel isn’t quite right, make a note in the margin (or add an asterisk or highlight the words in a different colour if using a PC).

You can start each writing session by reading over the previous session’s work and making revisions. This puts you back into the events too, and you can then take up the story where you left off.

How Long Should Your Book Be?

Not as long as it takes to present the story! That could take forever.

The most popular fiction books are between 60,000 and 100,000 words and contain at least 20 chapters.

Every chapter should end with a hook – to entice the readers on to the next chapter and the book should end with a note of finality. You don’t want your readers thinking that the last page is missing.

These ideas should keep you busy until next month! Happy writing.