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Posts from the ‘Starting a Novel’ Category

Plotting and Outlining My Novel ‘Night of Thieves’, by Jeff Nelson

Over the coming months I will be writing my first novel manuscript, provisionally titled ‘Night of Thieves’.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the French Riviera in the early nineteen sixties, a period when the jet-set flocked to the Riviera’s sun drenched beaches and picturesque towns.

The story follows a man whose enviable lifestyle has been financed by a string of jewel thefts that hadn’t until recently attracted the attention of the Surete (French Police).

The novel opens with him restless and longing for excitement, and quickly moves to a glamorous party in Cannes announcing a new film to be shot on location on the Riviera. He meets and is immediately attracted to the film’s young actress who is wearing a rare and valuable diamond necklace that will be featured in the new film.

Challenges arise for him when his Fence (a buyer of stolen goods) has a buyer for the necklace and wants him to steal it and when his former protégé returns to the Riviera with her eye on the necklace.

Can he resist the temptation that the necklace offers, does he even want to? – And what of the French Police who’ll be looking at him should the necklace go missing. But the necklace also has a history and a violent background to contend with.

Night of Thieves is a story I’ve been pondering and plotting for a little while now and actually came about from plotting out a background story for another novel I was considering set in contemporary times! – So aspiring writers be careful that you don’t spend too much time working on back-stories for the characters and plot or you’ll never get started on the actual writing.

But now it’s time for me to consolidate my plot ideas into a reasonably coherent outline and from there the build of each chapter upon chapter…, but first the outline.

My outline grew and grew and became many pages long and was in many parts filled with questions and possible answers to particular plot points – if I did this what would happen next, how would the characters resolve this problem, get out of this situation etc…

I then found out about the synopsis, a generally 2-3 page outline of your novel submitted to potential publishers, and started to write one and failed – I ended up with 11 pages (they were double spaced however!), but what I did achieve is to finally shape those pages and pages of plot points, questions and semi coherent scrawling from my initial outlining into a reasonably coherent story and I now have a story outline, despite being 11 pages long from start to finish and in chapter order that I can work with.

The next stage will be consolidating those 11 pages into 2 pages for potential publishers and others that may be interested in the novel (but at least they can be single spaced!).

I’ve also began the start of the initial few chapters … but more on that in the next post.

Stay tuned….


Jeff Nelson bio page

B is for Burglar: A Kinsey Millhone mysteryThe Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet: The Great Victorian Jewel ThiefThe Fall of Lucas KendrickCary Grant: The Gentleman's Collection (Houseboat / Indiscreet / That Touch of Mink / To Catch a Thief) (4 Movie Boxset) Confessions of a Master Jewel ThiefStealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art HeistsThe French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers


Forming The Idea For My Novel (The Goblin Chronicles – Book 1), by Russell Cornhill

Hi. My name is Russell Cornhill and I mainly write fantasy satire – though I might branch to any form of spec fiction.

I have over forty ideas to be written as novels and have written and rewritten three manuscripts, all currently on the shelf awaiting another rewrite – though I’m reasonably satisfied with ‘Alternities’ and ‘The Year Reality Broke’.

The Goblin Chronicles was originally nine stand-alone ideas for fantasy satire with goblins as the central characters. I started writing the one that was bubbling and wrote a couple of short pieces as a fun bit of background. That’s when the idea occurred that I could link all nine ideas chronologically with a background story that would culminate in a tenth story; the only one concentrating on the overall story.

The problem was that the one I’d started writing fitted best as number six in the series.

Then came the chance to join The Australian Literature Review‘s Novel Manuscript Development Program. I put away book six and frantically started book one, which wasn’t bubbling and was, at best, a vague idea.

The first meeting was basically a get-to-know each other and what we wrote. Okay, I wasn’t shot down in flames.

The next two sessions concentrated on planning. This was good as I’ve slowly realised I’m more of a planner than a ‘seat of the pantser’ but this was when I realised I had another problem. Being something of a satirist, I tend to come from the theme or basic idea first. Then I weave a story around it. Then I create the characters, often while I’m writing. Yes, it doesn’t always work exactly in that order, but that’s the general procedure.

The problem was that the satire and theme I had planned didn’t really fit into the story as it had started to develop. It required a more developed society than I was working with and, you know how it is, the characters didn’t want to change.

Never mind, things were starting to bubble, characters were starting to form, and a slightly different theme, also ripe for some satire had begun to form. The result  is that this manuscript will probably be more story based and less satire based than my normal writing. Perhaps that’s a good thing

I do try to keep the satire in the background. I’m writing a story, not standing behind the pulpit preaching. Anyhow, I don’t pretend to know any answers, just, hopefully pointing out a few of the many absurdities in human society.

That’s about it. Now we’re concentrating on the writing and I’ve almost got myself organised. Working closely with three others is a great help and Steve is an excellent guide. Let’s hope a few people from the overall program can write that breakthrough novel.

Russell Cornhill bio page

The Princess and the GoblinGoblin HeroGoblin SecretsThe Grasping Goblin (Grim and Grimmer)The Goblin GateThe Goblins of LabyrinthGoblinoids: How to Draw and Paint Goblins, Orcs and Other Dark Creatures

On Plotting My Novel, by Kathy Stewart

A debate most novelists have is whether they’re ‘pantsers’ or ‘plotters’. Many confess to only having the beginning and end in mind and then fleshing out the middle as they go. That is, they’re pantsers. And that’s how I started – with a vague idea of the direction of the story, relying on developing the characters as I went.

But with Steve Rossiter’s help, I’ve now realised the value of plotting. This time, with my fourth novel, I’ve written out detailed character interviews and then drawn up outlines of each chapter so that I know ahead of time which direction each scene will take.

I must admit, though, that there is a certain amount of satisfaction in discovering the characters as you go along. It’s as if some part of your mind knows the story all along and was just waiting for you to uncover it. And I’m sure this will happen, even though I’ve done such detailed planning. I fully believe I’ll discover wrinkles and nuances I had no idea existed. That’s what makes writing so much fun.

At one stage I thought plotting would obviate the need to write so many superfluous words, but that was not to be. Given the detail included in my character interviews, and the detailed plot points in each chapter, I’ve already written many thousands of words.

But the value of all this planning is that I now know my characters really well. I can see them, feel their pain, laugh at what makes them laugh, so when it comes to writing the scene, I know what they’re thinking and feeling and it’s just a case of conveying that to the reader.

It sounds easy but I’m sure it won’t be. Finding that correct phrase and just the right word will still be as much of a challenge, as will be keeping the pace going to keep my reader interested.

In the first weeks, Steve had us write out the main points that would be covered in each chapter. We discussed at length the motivation for each character. He reminded us of the importance of keeping description and introspection to a minimum, to keep our characters full of action, allowing the reader to interpret the thoughts of characters through what they do and say, much as one would do watching a movie or play. All good advice and something I hope I can achieve as we progress through our novels from week to week.

I’ve set myself a 5000-word target to achieve each week and this is quite a big ask. This is when I hope all the plotting and planning will pay dividends by giving me a clear direction of where I’m heading.

Although previously I’ve I always thought of myself as a pantser, in actual fact I think this plotting might suit me very well. Only time will tell, of course, but I’m looking forward to the journey.


Kathy Stewart’s bio page

Scene and Structure (The elements of fiction writing)The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human MotivesStory Structure Architect: A Writer's Guide to Building Plots, Characters and ComplicationsWriting for Emotional ImpactPoetics (Dover Thrift S.)Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the CraftThe Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

Facing The Blank Page, by Emma Tucker

Over the last few weeks I have begun to seriously sit down and write a book. It’s a daunting endeavour, and it’s not something that someone can really tell you how to do – you just kind of have to find your own way, feeling along in the dark, as it were. I’ve always written stories, and a lot of the time (particularly if I’ve been reading excessively) I find myself narrating scenes in my head. It’s sometimes irritating, but mostly it’s fun. At some point I thought it would be a good idea to write these down.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not doing anything else while I’m writing this – that, of course, would be the goal, and the sheer amount of time, effort and energy that goes into a book means that often there is little time for other undertakings. I currently work full-time though, so I usually spend my evenings and weekends writing. I hope that, if the right things fall into place, I will be able to write full-time at some point in the future.

This first part of the writing itself hasn’t been too hard; when I started I had a very vague idea that I wanted to write a crime novel of some description, with a little bit of romance tossed in and plenty of horror for dessert. I love to read horror, I have just today finished “The Shining” (Stephen King) for the first time, and find myself incredibly in awe and inspired by its mastery of the genre. The attraction for me is the suspense, the not-knowing, the desperate, manic desire to get to the end and find out exactly how this dreadful adventure will conclude. While horror stories very rarely present with a “happy” ending – I think to do so would cheapen the whole experience – but an at least satisfying resolution is of utmost importance. Classic horror themes – like paranormal experiences for example – can offer an exciting sense of ambiguity and mystery that I hope to include in my own writing.

I digress. Back to the writing itself…

My starting point was incredibly nebulous, but within these few first weeks, I’ve written a draft outline of where I want the story to go and really defined my two main characters, as well as sorting out the nuts and bolts of how the story will be structured, and what kind of perspectives and themes I want to include. I have just this week finished (a very rough first draft) of chapter one (and it’s a short chapter, at that, but it’s something!) I actually like it very much at the moment, but as I said it is incredibly rough so perhaps in a few weeks I will look back and cringe and rewrite the whole thing. At the moment I am focusing on getting my ideas down into a structured narrative – it is too easy to get caught up editing one line for hours on end. Even when something doesn’t fit quite perfectly, I try to move on to the next thing just to get the general flow and shape of the story down.

Being part of the Novel Manuscript Development Program run by The Australian Literature Review has been hugely motivating. I work well with deadlines; I think a lot of people do, and being told that I have to write the first few chapters or an outline or whatever my task is for the week ahead, puts the pressure on – in a good way – to knuckle down and get on with it. I am finding that to be one of the most valuable things.

I am in fear of the blank page, though. A big worry is that in a few weeks, I’ll end up in a middling place in the novel not sure where to go, and again, I feel the comfort of having the class with me to push me through it, bring our my best ideas and write what I hope to be a great book. With my characters nattering away in my brain the way that they are at the moment, I have the feeling that I will be okay in the end.


Emma Tucker bio page

Setting Out To Write My Horror Novel, by Clint Greagen

Let’s get to the point. I’m writing a horror novel titled Waxy Flexy. Old buildings, dense forests, the mentally incapacitated, tortured spirits driven by redemption… oh, and a couple of dead kids. If this isn’t your thing you might want to move on to a different author.

I like to be scared – it’s fun. In particular, I like scaring myself.

When I was a teen I used to read horror stories in my room, at night, with a small torch. There was a buzz about it; locking myself inside the story with the focused shaft of light, making the darkness around me more complete. It removed the walls from the room and opened me up to the horror inside the book. I could be in a haunted castle, a dungeon filled with the screaming of tortured souls or a serial killer’s basement. There was no door to safety. No mother and father to run to. And everything was lingering right there in the darkness – the monsters, the ghosts, the human parasites, the werewolves and ghouls; narrowed eyes, long thin fingers, curved sharp teeth, and always the clincher – the intention to do me harm. (Never look over your shoulder!)

I got very good at sitting alone and staying inside my fear. Feeling the torture and the exhilaration of it. When I was finished reading I’d turn off the torch and fumble my way to the light switch on the wall. That was the most terrifying part. I remember it most clearly while reading Salem’s Lot.

In my early twenties, I moved into an old doctor’s surgery with some university friends. There were ceiling roses, old plush carpet worn to a dull grey where it had suffered the most traffic, large mirrors in every room, and all the nightly noises that come with old houses. I loved it. We’d try to guess who had the room where the surgeries had occurred. Had someone died in every room? Did the noises belong to the ghosts of those who still thought they might walk out the front door? And the mirrors – there were many times I thought I saw something there in the corner of my eye.

I’d watch horror movies by myself in my room. Late at night when everyone else was asleep or out. The story coming out to me this time, flickering across the high roofs and bathing me in its light, all of it reflected in the mirror.  It wasn’t hard to get scared at that house. And I gave myself no choice but to see each movie through to the end.  Then I’d force myself to walk out into the hall, across the living room and into the kitchen before I could turn on a light. I’d have something to drink and eat and then watch the television in the living room to shake of the feeling of dread.

I’ll never bungee jump, or ride white-water rapids, but I’d call myself an adrenalin junkie when it comes to horror stories. It’s the feeling when the story is finished that’s the most rewarding. When muscles hum with fatigue, and the breathing returns to normal. It’s the quiet high that comes when you’ve won the fight. I know I’ll always search for it.

And that’s why I write horror stories. Late at night, my four boys to bed, I sit at the computer and lose myself in the small square of light. When I’m writing well the walls disappear around me, the darkness opens up and the horrible comes alive. The rules change and I allow myself to look over my shoulder when I’m writing.  The story opens up and I keep searching through it, trying for that ultimate reward – to scare myself.


Clint Greagen bio page

Salem's LotOn WritingOn Writing Horror: A Handbook by Beyond FearFracturedLet the Right One inOnly Child

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