When I’m about to start a new novel, I usually have some idea of what I want to write about. This hasn’t always been the case. I used to write ‘blind’ until I found that even though I enjoyed the abandonment and freedom it gave me, my writing always ended up reading like pages of prose without structure or real meaning. This rarely happens in a short story because I can tie it all up fairly quickly. I still abandon myself to writing but it only usually happens once I know my plot, characters and themes. I believe I already have a voice, so that isn’t something I tend to worry about.
So, first of all, I pen an outline. In my last novel Hearts and Spies, I know I want a strong, female main character. I also want a love interest for her, but not someone who will be around all the time, because I want a bit of heartache between them; an element that both characters will want to overcome. Next, I think of names for the couple. I imagine the female main character in my head and the name Susie suits her. I then roll the name, Dan, around my tongue before deciding that Dan sounds like just the guy for her.
There’s plenty of loving in there too, mainly via how much my main character thinks about her lover when he isn’t around. I introduce an object: each wear a silver heart necklace with hidden pictures of one another inside. Why hidden? Hey, this is a spy novel you know.
I take my main character, Susie, and write a short character study. She will be thirty years of age, rather buxom, with dark hair and grey eyes. She will be a master of disguise, changing into The Vixen when she’s working as a spy. The Vixen has red hair, green contacts, padded out to be larger than she normally is. In truth, Susie is a keep-fit fanatic, who runs for miles at a time. She still has a robust frame, which I think makes her seem a bit more realistic. Heroines don’t have to be thin.
Where will the novel be set? I already have that in mind, and decide to stick to it as it’s an interesting place, with lots to offer me as a writer, and I know the setting quite well, which helps when I’m writing in abandonment. It’s where I’m setting my current work in progress, another spy novel called: Secrets and Spies.
Back to the finished novel: Susie wants something to happen and she goes all out to get it. The novel is really about getting back what the main character has lost or the journey she takes to solve the problems lying in her way. For this to happen I have to introduce characters who will stand against her – quite a bit of conflict. All of the above forms part of the outline.
I might start to actually write some of the novel at this stage; usually the beginning, though that’s not to say the beginning stays the same later on. It all depends what comes into my mind next. I may write without a title for the time being, or if I’ve already thought of a brilliant title, I might use it for the work-in-progress then realise later that it doesn’t fit, and change it at that stage.
MORE TO COME SOON ON: GETTING TO KNOW MY CHARACTERS INSIDE OUT AND: SUB-PLOTS.