Following on from the previous post, other aspects of planning your novel might fall under the rather pedestrian heading of ‘product research’.
Target market. If you don’t know yours, an agent or publisher might not, either. Having a clear audience in mind will help you during the writing process, and later, when pitching it.
What’s the competition? What work might it be compared to, and where might it 'fit'?
Chapter length. The fashion is now for shorter chapters, useful for increasing tension and making for a faster pace of narrative. Again, check the competition.
Word count. Has it got the legs to be a book, or is it merely a short story with lofty pretensions? Location. If it’s a real place, get to know it and get it right. If made up, it can help to ‘borrow’ a mix of genuine locations and scenery to add realistic texture and colour.
Setting. Contemporary, historical or future? The detail must be convincing, as the backdrop descriptions serve to identify time, place and atmosphere.
Viewpoint. First-person viewpoint allows only a single point of view - you are in your storyteller’s mind all the way - whereas using the third-person allows other viewpoints and perspectives, giving a broader scope. Some books have both, alternating between the two, but this needs treating with skill to avoid confusing the reader.
Character names. Ideally, these should match the period, location and even the age or class of the characters. A mismatch can cause the reader to stumble, chipping away at their enjoyment.
Other points which might impact on your writing:
Series or stand-alone. What if, heavens to Betsy, an interested publisher asks for a second book with the same characters? Readers and publishers love series, and for you this can lead to follow-up sales and the likelihood of a prolonged career. It would also involve some fundamental decisions about your writing output and forward planning, as a series calls for longevity of characters and an ever-growing biography – as well as plans for their future. And producing a number of stand-alones requires a constant supply of fresh ideas, each having to be constructed from new. It has been said that a succession of individual novels is like a bus journey; the vehicle stays the same but the passengers must change.
Direction and outcome. Ultimately, this is about where your story – and the readers – are going.
You have to decide:
Is the journey emotional, physical or psychological – and where will it take them?
How? Will it be through action, drama or trial and tribulation?
Who is involved? (The good, the bad and the in-betweens).
What obstacles will they meet along the way? High points: love, danger, thrills. Low points: loss, uncertainty and disappointment.
In most stories, the main characters have to change in some way. Something must happen to them, so that the reader can follow their development.
Research. Becoming bogged down in the detail is a real danger, but in order to get things right, you have to consider all avenues and how far you want to go. (At least with an excess of research, you might end up with enough material for another book!)
Internet. Fast, vast and efficient, but too much late-night on-screen activity can lead to eye strain, pale skin and a tendency for neighbours to view you with suspicion.
Bookshops. Whether testing the market by studying similar books or gathering background information, getting close to the look and smell of the market place is a great motivator – you just can’t wait to be part of it.
Visiting real places. Much more fun – and healthier – but time-consuming.
Newspapers/archives. If your book is fact-based, or you need historical detail, you might need to consult facilities like the British Library archives in Colindale, north London.
Real People. If you know anyone with expertise or knowledge useful to your novel, it is worth plumbing this valuable resource. It’s always a surprise to find just how much people love talking about their jobs and experiences.
How and When. Do you research before you start writing, as you go, or after the first draft? The plain answer is, whichever suits you best. Deciding on the how and when before you begin will help you make the best use of your time and resources.
All that’s left now is to decide when to begin the actual writing - now or later?
I jest. There’s never a later.
· Think about the ‘look’ of your book and its physical characteristics.
· Plan the research as well as the story. One will undoubtedly impact on the other.
· Consider future writing plans and how the current project might affect them.
· If you have a clear idea about your book, it will make the writing so much easier.