Callie Hunter

Planning A Novel: Each Step Of The Way.

Everybody has different methods of creating, and there are countless books telling you the authors preferred method. While there is no wrong and right to plan plot, characters, points of conflict and subtext, I’m going to share my method of planning. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting, and hopefully you can share your methods, too.

  • Plot

Some authors plan everything down to the tiny detail. I find when I do this, I lose my enthusiasm for the story. With no room for spontaneity I quickly lose interest in the story. I plan a vague plot, and key points which I need to get to. With this, starting small, I focus on each section in its own right rather than each section in relation to the next.

  • Characters

I start with a character. A small thing I know about them. Using ‘Bruised’ as an example, I knew Hunter was adopted, and he would accept Evelyn as a daughter. I didn’t know much more in the beginning, so I planned what I could and wrote what I knew. It was through critiques and speaking to people that everything fell into place. I started with one story and everything else fell into place.

My characters drive my story. As I write, I find I get more ideas. As the characters come to life, they give me ideas to fill the gaps between each key event. Through giving my characters the freedom to write themselves, I can truly explore their personalities and watch them come to life. To me they’re like real people, not just fictional characters.

There are countless times I walk through the streets mumbling to myself until I get a clear conversation that fuels my scene.

  • Scene Construction

It all starts with dialogue.

I think of key dialogue and from there everything falls into place. I started my serious writing with scripts, and my main focus was on clear, precise dialogue. I’ve been told that I could draw out the dialogue and pad it out, but I decided to ignore this advice. Most of the time I go for short but natural dialogue unless it is 100% necessary.

Once I have my dialogue I work on my descriptions, and internal thoughts where necessary. I find this helps me focus my energies on one thing at a time. I write, edit, fill the gaps, read, edit and edit to the best of my ability. It then comes to the point where I think I’m happy with it – until people outside of the story can put their fresh pair of eyes on it and spot the flaws and help me to improve.

  • Back story

Back story is a difficult thing to handle.

In some cases, like in ‘In Between Dreams‘ there are things I can’t show/include in dialogue because nobody discusses it. The suicide is never mentioned because they’re desperate to move past it. I can only show this through flashback and even then there’s a balance between when is it necessary and when could you slip it through everything else?

In ‘Bruised‘, a lot of readers were asking for information about Daisy (Evelyn’s mother) but as Hunter doesn’t remember her, and Evelyn doesn’t talk about her mother with Hunter until halfway through the story, I can’t include it. This is a bother as most readers want information on this and keep asking for it. I can’t hint at things until Hunter and Evelyn are in a good place to discuss it. While this bothers me, I’ve found several ways to handle this.

Prologues

While a lot of readers/writers frown upon them, it can be a good way to give information that is important to the story but isn’t part of the main piece. There is a danger to information dump using this method and that is one trouble with important backstory that can’t be fed through in another other way. I personally like prologues, they add something to the story but the story can work without. You hear stories of people skipping the prologues but I find that disrespectful. The author write it for a reason, it had significance of the author wouldn’t have written it in.

Backstory through dialogue

This is a method I have used in Bruised and In Between Dreams where necessary. It’s the most natural way to feed information through in my opinion, but it’s also got a huge risk of information dumping.

It’s only really a problem when you need to give backstory on characters when we’re not in their POV. For example, a friend of mine is constantly told she’s info dumping in her chapters. This is because she needs to give information on a character who is dead, and it’s never told from his POV. She’s struggling to put the backstory in a natural way. There’s a lot of information to tell, and it’s hard to find a natural way to do so.

In my third novel ‘Tiptoe‘ I can ease the backstory through. While Sean doesn’t mention it, people around him certainly do. This is a problem that arises all the time. Maybe with practice we’ll find the solution to this.

If anyone reading this had any advice on how to avoid information dumping, I’d love to hear it!

I hope anyone reading this has advice, or can share their method of constructing a story, I would love to hear it. Writing a story is possibly one of the hardest things in the world, and writing a good one is even harder. I’m still learning but I know what works for me and I would love to hear what works for other writers.

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This entry was published on July 23, 2013 at 9:20 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

9 thoughts on “Planning A Novel: Each Step Of The Way.

  1. I’m quite glad I read this. I do worry a little that you need to know the characters fully before writing, but I just can’t quite get my head around that. As I need new things for characters, I’ll do a bit of research, and see what actually fits the character in question.

    As for information dumping, I’m working on my first novel and the back story for one of my main characters is her memory of some CCTV footage. It was a tragic event in her life, but she wasn’t there at the time, so she replays the footage she’s seen in her head.

    I think getting information out which is important but is needed from a dead person could be done via CCTV of an event, a home video or possibly even a diary. These things have a way in people’s lives of being forgotten, but can be found by accident (such as knocking a box off a shelf when getting something else) and can hold all kinds of information. It might be quick fix in some cases, but it could work depending on circumstance and context.

    • It may not the be there normal way of writing, but I learn a lot as I write. Hunter pretty much came full circle as I considered different reasons behind him. Parker took five to six years to fully develop and Hunter naturally blossomed. Planning too much before writing is a killer for me, especially for characters. But most of my character have different traits that I have, so I project myself in them and their feelings. Call it therapy, with hypothetical situations!

      The CCTV sounds interesting. It’s a creative way to cover something that could be quite dull to read otherwise. How do you deal with it? Do you describe the footage and then show her through process to de-code it or understand it? That’s a fascinating approach.

      My friend has a journal scene later in the story but people are impatient and she doesn’t want to give the story until later. It’s like people moaned that Hunter ‘wouldn’t do that’ when I had valid reasons and he would only share them with Jessie in Chapter twenty or so, so I hinted at things as I go. Besides dialogue and the journal thing, (not sure CCTV could work for her piece, but I’ll suggest it to her) how do you handle impatient readers who don’t want to wait for the big reveal?

      • In the book I am writing, the CCTV footage plays through the character’s mind on nights she can’t sleep. I’ve only described the footage, and not really dealt with her processing it, but it paves the way for explaining why she does what she does, and how she became who she is.

        I think readers who are impatient and want all of the information at once should not be pandered to. The impatience they have stems from the wide availability of information at our fingertips, so they want all of the information now. I think if you give too much away too early, you’ll struggle to hold their attention until the end, or have to come up with an amazing twist to shock them further, but not giving them enough might stop them from reading the rest of the book. I guess the trick is to find a balance of giving just enough information for there to be a surprise, but not enough for all of them to guess the outcome.

        Filling the sections between reveals with smaller sub-plots where possible would also be good so they have a bit of a distraction from wanting the information then and there.

        All told, I’ve only been working on my first book, so I am very inexperienced at this stage so I’m probably not the best person to give advice, but those are my thoughts.

  2. “it paves the way for explaining why she does what she does, and how she became who she is.” This basically stems onto another rant for me. When readers say “I don’t think they would do this” or “it’s not a normal reaction” why would it matter? Not everybody responds in the same way and just because a character responds to something differently than most people, doesn’t make it wrong. Have you ever found this with your work? People like to say it wouldn’t happen when you have valid reasons that drive their actions?

    You’re absolutely right. There needs to be a mystery, something to look forward to. You get to know the characters in one light so when you see their background and what drives their (unusual) life choices, the reader grows more attached to them, at least in Hunter’s case. Enough to give them a hint, or some justification for their actions usually keeps them quiet. It’s hard to please everyone and when you receive vastly different advice, how do you decide who to listen to?

    Just because you’re on your first book doesn’t mean you don’t have a valid opinion! Some writers of twenty years have given me advice that I’ve ignored because it doesn’t fit with my style of writing, the characters or the flow of the story. While appreciated, just being experienced doesn’t mean they know best. Your advice is very good – but it’s easy to think because you’re inexperienced, you’re not good enough. It’s not right. You’ve got some good comments and advice. Don’t fall into the ‘I’m a new writer, what do I know?’ trap. Some critiquers on websites like to act like they know best, but it’s all just their opinion.

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  4. I completely agree with your points on plot and character! I’m currently writing the first draft of my novel and blogging about it on here but I’ve only recently been able to properly start it despite having the idea a year ago, because I ended up doing so much planning for the plot and characters that everything I wrote felt flat and I realized that I had ended up writing to link up plot points rather than to record the decisions my characters made. In the end I had to take a break until I had forgotten about most of the planning and start the first draft again with only a loose plot. I definitely need to leave room for spontaneity and let the characters drive the plot.

    As for backstory, I’m having the same problem with my current work in progress because one of the important catalysts that drives the events of the story happened 14 years before the start of the novel. I can’t show the backstory through the protagonist’s thoughts either because at the start of the book he doesn’t know much about the event at all. I’m using a few methods to convey what happened and avoid the dreaded info dump, one that I’ve only recently began to explore properly is memory. The death of my protagonist’s mum is the key catalyst for why he is in his current predicament at the start of the story but she dies 4 years before the novel begins so in order to show this naturally I have my protagonist notice something (a smell/object/sound etc… I haven’t quite decided yet) that reminds him of his mum and brings the memories flooding back.

    I completely agree that it’s a balancing act! At the moment I’m trying to work on sprinkling details throughout my novel, including enough in each chapter so that the reader will be able to understand the reasons for what happens in the next chapter, but not enough for the reader to be able to guess any plot twists. It’s a difficult line to walk!

    • That sounds like a difficult thing to balance because you can just ease it in casually when there’s no character directly involved with it! Sprinkling it through really seem like the best way is possible. Some people don’t like flashbacks because they break the flow on the piece. If a flashback is necessary to give information and it naturally fits, then that’s also a good thing to do.

      Too many readers/authors shun flashbacks and prologues. Have you included a prologue? That could be good to establish key information that the reader knows and the character doesn’t?

      The job of an author isn’t easy. Some readers seem to think it is.

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