Many authors spend time planning their novels to some degree, many don’t plan at all. It’s whatever floats your boat. I’m a planner.
When I was half-way through A Patient Man, the third in the Inspector James Given series, I decided I’d kill him off. I’d had enough of him and wanted to move on to pastures new. I’d a long-term project I wanted to finish and planning a novel in a possible new series.
Spoiler Alert: I didn’t kill James!
James Given didn’t want to die despite my best efforts. Instead, he niggled away at me whilst I tried to work on the other projects and when a situation arose which gave me an idea for a plot he pushed his way to the front of the queue to be involved. So Where Every Man was born.
Planning a novel creates challenges, and I sometimes wonder why authors do this to themselves, making life as difficult as possible. In addition to being set in the 1930s, so lots of research to be done, this is also set outside England, adding another layer of complexity. This novel, like the others, is in first person so there’s wrestling with how to tell the tale where every event has to be seen by, or reported to, our hero. Without giving anything away, James has an extra barrier to solving the crime this time, which is already causing me headaches.
What I’ve discovered in planning this novel is I’ve learnt a lot about the process since embarking on the first, A Shadowed Livery, which is what might be expected. Instead of a random development of plot and characters, and chapters written in any order I fancied writing them, the second novel, A Pretty Folly, began with me working out the basic plot, then the writing of a synopsis for each scene. This time, I’d outline in my head and worked on the storyline for each of the main suspects.
The one became stuck on, though it often is the most difficult, is the villain. I knew who he/she was and, more or less, why they did what they did. But I was far from clear about many aspects – and it was fun finding out how James Given caught him/her.
However, it confirmed what I’ve learned over the years, regardless of how much planning I do, the characters tell their own story. When we got to editing, it was clear the structure didn’t work – James had taken me down a blind alley or two before getting to the meat of the case. His personal life also kept interfering – and I wanted so much to know about him and his wife. This is where you need to detach yourself from your plan.
Throw away that SatNav and start planning another route.
To paraphrase Morecambe and Wise, I had all the right scenes, just not necessarily in the right order. So, what I had to do was change that order, rewrite some links and, precious as they were, throw away a few scenes. I say ‘throw away’ but we never do that. Instead we keep them safe for next time. Mine may provide a short story as a prequel to the series. Who knows?
At least, through planning, I got to the end before I discovered I’d taken a wrong path, then another which, thankfully, got me to my destination. Albeit with a large detour.
Despite these entanglements, I, alongside the excellent people at Sapere Books, finished the novel and now I’m on to projects new. This one is perhaps even more challenging – an eighteenth century mystery set in Shropshire.