Deeper into the dangerous world of planning

After posting my planning sheet last week I’ve had a request to put up a link so others can use it. My immediate reaction is to say ‘but it’s only five columns on a spreadsheet.’ And as it’s so ridiculously simple I won’t bother to link it here (besides, I’m too lazy to work out how to share it publicly), but I will explain a little further about it and the way I’m working at the moment.

A little background: we’re talking here about the 9th draft of Night Shift, my main project of the last two years. Last December I went to London to meet with an agent who’d read my 7th draft and liked it enough to ask for revisions. In an effort to impress her with my hard work and dedication I went away and rushed through a rewrite which – I thought – considerably improved on the depth and motivations of my characters, as well as fixing the many plot-holes that had somehow dodged my consciousness over the previous year.

So I did that, got feedback from my beta readers and resubmitted. And it wasn’t what the agent had wanted. For a while I was crushed and resolved to take a little break from NS, and then come back to it and really get to grips with the criticisms. And that’s what I’m working on now.

The main problems remained characterisation and back-story, as well as repetitious scenes and the odd bit of illogic. Rather than just going through and rewriting as I came to problems I decided the best thing was to go back to first principles and concentrate on building a convincing history to the story (what brought these characters to this place, both physically and mentally: and what brought the world to this state). And so the planning began.

I went through my most recent draft (with agent’s comments) and work out just what happened when, where and to whom through every scene of the novel. This was a slow and painful process. I created a spreadsheet with the following columns: Chapter; Time/Day; What Happens; Why?; Implications; Notes.

Having done this but finding it too unwieldy to really work with – and certainly impossible to print out and use manageably – I then stripped the plan down even further. This created the document I showed last week. The headings on that were: Chapter; Time; What Happens?; Notable Alterations [from the previous draft – I was already thinking of things that had to be changed]; Consequences; Notes.

Having charted the novel I then took the plan out for a drink (coffee – didn’t want to take advantage of the poor thing) and went through it bit by bit and scribbled all over it, marking on scenes I should move or delete or build upon in ways suggested by both the agent and my own re-evaluation of the story.

What I’d not really done at any time since the first germination of an idea was to really look at the way I’d put the story together. Nor had I given enough thought to – well, not quite to character; I had thought about that. But I had to totally understand my protagonist and give him a properly grounded history and background. To understand what really brought this group of people to the most isolated place on the planet; what in their histories made that an acceptable career move?

So my new plan is the tool that I’m using to rewrite the story. My scribbles are there to remind me of ideas and to work through chains of consequence. And above all to help me focus on the ‘why is s/he doing this?’ question. It’s often said that every conversation, every interaction, needs a subtext – but quite often the characters themselves don’t know what that is. This is my attempt to really get to grips with this.

It’s a lot of work and I’m feeling the pressure of getting it done in a reasonable timescale. I don’t have a deadline, but the last thing I want to do is let the agent forget about me – worse, that she can’t trust me to make changes in a timely manner. So I’m stressed and anxious. Still, this time-consuming way of working is, I think, one I need to go through. Because everyone can forgive a little lateness if it results in a quality product.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s