1. Write a biography for each of the main characters. In this you put details of appearance, characteristics, age, aspirations and back story.
2. Make a list of all minor characters such as friends/family members/servants (if you write historical as I do) and give them a mini biography and make sure the names you use don't begin with the same letter as the names of the main characters.
3. Create a timeline and put any major events that actually took place so these can be slotted into your story if necessary. (This only applies to historical, obviously.)
4. Write a brief outline of what takes place in each scene/chapter and indicate from whose viewpoint it is so that you keep a balance of hero/heroine/villain.
When this is done you are ready to start writing your book. The characters should now be vivid in your mind and you will have a good idea of the direction your book will take. However, remember that this is only a guide and it doesn't have to be followed exactly. I found having this written down extremely helpful in the beginning because when you get to the "sagging middle" you can refer to your original plans to tighten things up.
Jean Fullerton, a very successful author of Victorian and East End nursing sagas for Orion, has an even more meticulous planning method. Even after eight books she still does this before she starts. On her screen she will have the equivalent of a double page spread divided into sections, in each section is a scene of about 1000 words. When I speak to her on the telephone she will often tell me she still has X number of scenes to complete – this means she always knows where the book is going and how much longer it will take her to write.
Now that I'm writing my forty-third book (seven mainstream historical and the rest Regency) I no longer need to plan for a 'single' title at all. I get an idea, think of the title, sort out the names of the main characters and I'm ready to go. I keep a notebook in which I write the names/ages/places as they occur in the book because by the time I get to the end I've often forgotten whether the butler is called Foster or Jenkins. However, I've just started writing a series which will have six books in it; although I've done no story planning I spent a couple of hours working out names/pages/partners and a title for each book. This is essential if you're writing a series as you must keep the chronology correct.
I expect that your are now wondering whether you should be planning or not before you start your book. My advice is to plan meticulously for your first couple of books but after that do whatever suits your writing style. I do recommend that you always keep a notebook with essential details of your characters. I hope these suggestions will be helpful to those still unsure which method to use. I know dozens of successful writers and I think it's probably a 50-50 split as to whether we plan or not before we start.
Fenella J Miller
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