When I was at school, pretty much my favourite thing was creative writing. Back then I wrote dark stories with plenty of ghosts, fairies, wicked stepmothers, vampires, monsters and ordinary kids like me being caught up in fantastical situations. Only my protagonist’s use of a magic amulet/sword/potion (supplied by a mysterious stranger, of course) or their own untapped abilities would win the day.
Many of those stories finished along the lines of
And they were never heard of again…
My endings have (hopefully) improved, but otherwise I pretty much write about the same things. Love a ghost story, would write vampires but they’re a bit ‘done’ and though I might not employ magic potions, I still recognise that my heroes and heroines – even if they aren’t a magical Chosen One – should find qualities within themselves to achieve their goals.
One major thing that has changed is my ability to plan.
When I wrote those childhood stories, and even when I began writing novels, my enthusiasm for an idea would have me rushing to my exercise book/keyboard, hammering out scenes in the order they appeared in my head, plucking characters from the air, smushing the whole thing together like play dough, hoping it would stick together.
That worked when I was a kid. Or at least I was happy enough with the results. As an adult? Not so much.
With my first book (my first three in fact, all unpublished) I returned to the same, tried and tested method of sitting in front of a screen and emptying my brains. The result had some pleasing moments… and flat, aimless characters, meandering plots and an end product as loose as Nana’s knitting.
Then I began to write for a women’s magazine and funnily enough, the editors required rather more than
Well, there’s this girl and I’m thinking maybe she falls in love and does some other stuff – probably to do with horses or goats – then she argues with the guy cos he does something stupid, but then he kisses her…
No. Editors want the first part of a proposed serial, they want character bios. Most of all, they want a synopsis.
Now, if you’re like me, just the mention of the S word will have you scuttling into the corner with a blanket over your head.
But once I’d dragged my inner writer kicking and weeping to the task, I actually found something interesting. A synopsis makes me focus on the shape of the story, its highs, its lows, the start, the resolution. It helps me know whether the idea is going to hang together and whether I can tell the story I want in the required word count.
It’s a cliche, but a synopsis is like having a Sat Nav in your car. You might take a different turning here and there, but if you have one – a good one – it makes it a heck of a lot harder to get lost.
So on my current journey through the realms of Novel (fifth go and yes, still unpublished), I’m taking a Sat Nav with me and not just relying on a trail of breadcrumbs to get me home.
How about you? Do you plan before you write or just go boldly where your creativity takes you?