Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Questions on Research and Plot

A friend of mine is just reading the manuscript for my first novel (again, not the one coming out in October!), and sent me the following email:

I have millions of questions. Perhaps you can answer a couple in the first instance: Did you plan out the entire story in outline form and then flesh it out? Did you do tons of Google research about Sweden, guns, etc? Did you read any of these: Dorothea Brande - Becoming a writer, Strunk and White, etc, etc?

Because this touches on various issues that writers might be interested in, my wife thought it would be useful to post my reply:
When I originally planned it out, I followed advice on plot and structure in Robert McKee's Story, which is excellent. It's written for screenplay writers specifically, but equally useful for novelists.

I did plan it out very carefully, and even filled out cards with scenes on, etc, so I could move them around physically and keep everything tightly controlled. Some people just write 'on the fly' and don't plan anything, but I think thrillers need to be plotted very carefully.

In terms of research - yes, I pretty much googled everything! Street map and google earth are great for planning chase and action scenes. I also have a lot of books at home on military topics, but most things are researched via the internet.

Having said that, it is easy to get carried away with plotting and research, eager to make everything 'perfect', and then never get around to actually writing anything! In fact, many people nervous about writing will use it as an excuse (i.e. 'I'll start writing properly as soon as I've resolved the outcome of subplot B in scene five'). I was a bit guilty of this myself, but my wife cracked the whip!

I still plotted everything out carefully for the second one, but started the actual writing a lot earlier. I think the work I did on the first one was really useful though, as planning things so carefully focuses the mind - without structure, things can get very confusing, very quickly!

Hope this helps!

If anyone else has any questions about writing in general (although I am not purporting to be an expert by any means!), please feel free to send comments to the site, and I will try and respond to as many as possible.

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