I never plan my stories on paper, I live them in my head and I write them and I discard a lot of what I write, swishing through the fields of words with a dispassionate and cynical scythe… I don’t even make notes, I know what colour my characters eyes are, I know whether they like apple pie or detest curry, I don’t write little biographies of them, but I do actually sometimes write a family tree, just to check out ages of the different generations, and make sure it would be possible for someone to have a child and be neither too young or too old. I do sometimes make lists of names, if there are families with several children who don’t necessarily feature but are just mentioned, then I have to make sure I don’t swap children.
I use old diaries and calendars to plan out the time scale of things, I have a tendency for things to happen too quickly, instead of a more reasonable length of time. ‘Farholm’ which covered the events of two weeks had to be quite tight in terms of time… would someone have enough time to walk from the harbour to the castle, or from the hippy village to the windmill, would the bus taking the birdwatchers to the viewing point have enough time to do the circuit, taking in all the places of interest on the island. In ‘The Double Act’ which I’m working on now, one of the characters becomes pregnant and the child seemed to develop within a couple of weeks… I had to put some extra months in and rearrange events for the pregnancy to be realistic.
I am about to undertake writing 50,000 words in November as part of the national Novel Writing Month, and I have decided (pretty much) that I am going to write about the Radwinter family, and their exploration of their genealogy going back to when Thomas Radwinter arrives from eastern Europe in the 1830’s. He may have been named Taras Radvily, or Tomasz Radwillo… or some version of that… he marries and has children so goodness knows how many descendants he would have by 2013! This is why I need a plan, with dates, and ages, and occupations. In my own family tree research I have seen how people (men) follow their father’s trade and then how the trade itself changes as the years go by, a blacksmith becomes a white smith, a white smith begins to work for a gas company, a gas-man becomes an engineer… I’ve seen that pattern over a family and fifty odd years of census returns. Someone works in an inn, becomes an inn-keeper, has a brewery attached, is no longer a publican but a brewer, has a large company which still exists today! It’s true, a relative of my husband had this happen in Sussex between 1840-1890.
So… I need a plan!