Friday, 4 May 2012

Scene notes: My amazing new plan

I’ve spent the week clearing my decks, and once the last few jobs are done today, I will be able to devote myself – not before time – to the next time slip. 

So far I’ve done a 25k SFD of the story in the past and 10k for the present, neither of them finished.  This is not great progress, especially given I’m going away (again!) in a couple of weeks.  Two weeks isn’t long enough to  build up any momentum and in any case I’m not really ready to write anything other than a Shitty Second Draft, which I don’t think will gain me much.

But I have a plan!  I have a sense of scenes in the book, and for each I’m going to fill out a form like this one (which I've now realised you can't see very well).  Whenever I’m writing a story set in the past I find myself having to stop and scratch my head and think: What would they have had for breakfast?  Would there have been pews in the church at that time?  When did Drake sail around the world?  What remedies would they have used for cramps?  Would the death of a vagrant have been investigated, and if so, how? How exactly did Margaret Clitherow die? Were there horse chestnut trees in the 16th century? And so on.

I might have a PhD but I know none of this stuff - I can’t have my characters disposing of their rubbish for the entire book, sadly - so I have to stop and look it up.  It’s the same for the present.  No sooner do you start writing than you realise how much you just don’t know. 

My amazing new plan is to do all the important research in advance.  (I realise that this isn’t in fact new for anyone else, and that a detailed storyboard is probably par for the course for any serious writer, but it’s new for me, OK?) I’m going to write careful notes for each scene, being clear about what the point of the scene is, and what changes as a result of it.  Then if I also know exactly what the characters are feeling/doing/wearing/talking about, when I come to write it, the words will come easily, right? (Right?)

If you can't read the image, my boxes have the following prompts: 
* Location
* Season/time (so I don't have to stop and wonder what the light is like etc)
Who else is in the scene?
* What are they doing?  
* What are they wearing? 
* Point of scene/Change (vital: every scene has to change something, and it's easy to get carried away writing a lovely scene where your characters just continue being themselves and nothing really happens)
* How does she feel at beginning of scene?
* How does she feel at the end? (change again)
* Research (exactly what I need to find out about)
* Other notes (because I'm bound to have forgotten something important)

I have a vision of a page for every scene, beautifully written out and filed in a ring binder, perhaps with little pictures attached to remind me how to fasten a sleeve to a bodice perhaps.  And of course, when I have the two stories plotted out, I can check that the pacing is right, and that I have hit all the right points on the story arc.  Oh, it will be a thing of beauty!  A plotter’s paradise!  Why have I waited so long to realise the joy of proper plotting?

The truth is I’ve always been more of a “pantser” than a plotter, and I suspect I will quickly run out of steam when I realise I don’t know what happens in a scene, but I’m going to have a go.  I don’t feel like writing at the moment, and this seems like a good way to use these two weeks to focus my research where I really need it, as opposed to getting carried away down fascinating but irrelevant paths.  Or that’s the theory, anyway.  


  1. Good luck, Pam. I hope it works for you. If it does, maybe you could give a masterclass for the rest of us slackers. :)

  2. Oh, I LOVE this, it ticks every box for me. Problem is, research is so diverting but at least you have that 2 week time frame so you should be able to abandon yourself to it without too much guilt. Happy Days!

  3. I know, if only I could just do the research and forget actually writing the book ...

    After all this boasting, I haven't actually planned out a single scene yet - have been diverted into website stuff - but I'm going to get to it later today (I am, I really am). Will let you know how it goes!