Rosalind Minett

The characterful writer

Planner or pantser

Do you know how you will plan your novel? 

There are two kinds of writers: those who plan, and those who write on the seat of their pants. I would love to write the synopsis, theme, backgrounds of each character, main events of each chapter, before I ever begin but that just won’t work for me. When I start a novel I only have a germ: a snatch of dialogue, an incident, a theme. I don’t even know what kind of characters will pop up, which will prove to be major and even where the setting of dramatic scenes will be.

Despite the discipline of degrees and diplomas and a Ph.D. I’m not just a dyed-in-the-wool, but an irrevocably skin-stained, bone-irradiated, ingrained irredeemable pantser.

Working on the small germ,  something happens to the character speaking or experiencing the incident. That turns into a chapter. At the end of one chapter, I know what has to happen in the next but not further. By about the fourth chapter something emerges that enriches or expands the plot, becomes a sub-plot or develops one of the characters.

The novel outline falls into place when I know the ending. Usually that’s before I get halfway. Then it’s a matter of laying out the remaining ground, including character backgrounds, needed for reaching that end.

All my fiction has one thing in common (as well as their manner of creation) — they are character-led. I can’t write any other way.

No great plan but interesting things gradually emerging. 

Here’s an example of my writing process. A Relative Invasion is a trilogy set in the Home Front of WWII.  

It all began with one tiny thread. An elderly man chatting to me mentioned that he had been the last child to be ‘chosen’ by the villagers where his school had been evacuated. The children had been walked around the village in a crocodile. This man had been a tall seven-year-old, (‘He’ll cost a bit to feed and clothe’) and was only taken in reluctantly.

I thought, children must have been so resilient at that time. And so Billy was born, a sturdy well-meaning boy. But he was only aged five in 1937, and so I found myself writing historical fiction (with all the research that entails). The key figure at that time was, of course, Hitler, and his rise to power came as result of German resentment , humiliation and envy after the end of WWI.

Somehow, a cousin for Billy surfaced, one who would experience these negative emotions and turn them into psychological bullying to make Billy’s life a misery. However, this Kenneth would have undoubted talents and would need to be charismatic for the adults to be blind to the bullying. I made him artistic and physically frail.

Now I had a theme for my novel whereby the feelings and tensions in Europe (macro scale) would be mirrored in micro by this family, and particularly the two cousins in their developing rivalry.

Billy needed a secret symbol of power to support him.  I hit upon a Cossack sabre, that then needed a background story of its own. This led me into Russian/ Germanic conflict at the start of WWI. And the sabre icon would need to filter through to a conclusion.

I am not recommending this approach to writing, just saying that novels can emerge bit by bit as the narrative continues, and in this case, it was a trilogy that emerged.

Are you are writer? Consider which kind you are.

Rosalind Minett

Author of historical trilogy, A Relative Invasion. Rosalind has an extensive background as a psychologist.

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