I meet a lot of people who say that they’d like to write a novel. I think that most people who say that mean that they would like to have written a novel. They don’t crave the work as much as the satisfaction of having written one.
I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, writing my first novel. I’m scared. I initially felt scared that I would have nothing to write about. Now that I’ve been thinking about my novel for several months, I’m more afraid that I won’t finish it. I think it’s a good story. I love my main character. I’m excited about the plot. I don’t want to see it fail.
Can I use what I know about making other types of projects succeed to ensure my novel gets done on time? Of course I can.
I’m a planner. Writers like Stephen King start with a few characters in a bad situation and then write to see what happens. They call themselves “seat of the pants” authors. Other writers plan their plots in advance. They know what they’re going to write, more or less, before writing the first line. That feels more comfortable for me. I’ll be using an approach to planning called the Snowflake Method. It has ten steps, the last of which is “write the novel.” I won’t describe the method here. Randy Ingermanson created it, and you can read about it on his blog or in his book.
Using Randy’s method, I’ll be doing a lot of prep work in advance. I will have a summary of the novel, detailed descriptions of the characters, and a list of scenes ready. The character descriptions will be essential references to ensure that I’m staying consistent. My characters must not forget what’s important to them or act uncharacteristically. That means that I must not forget their goals and values or make them do anything unbelievable. So the character information sheets will be handy while I’m writing.
The scene list is my “To Do” list. When I’ve written all the scenes, I’ll have finished the first draft. I’ll be writing one scene at a time. I’ll probably write them in order, but I don’t have to. There are some scenes that I already have vividly in my head. Some come to me in the shower and for a moment feel as real as though I had lived them myself. So my system needs to allow me to work on scenes out of order if I want to.
I’m creating a Kanbanery board with a column for storing character sketches and a column for scenes. To keep them in order, I’ll name each scene “Ch1Sc1 What happens in this scene.” For example “Ch3Sc2 Vidya arrives on the island.” I’ll use the blocker feature to mark chapter breaks. I expect my novel to have about 50-60 scenes, and I can manage that in one column. The next column will be “Writing” and the last “Done.”
There are other ways to structure your board that might work better for you. You could create one column for each subplot like J.K. Rowling did to plan Harry Potter.
You could also make a different column for each chapter but that could make for a complicated board. A column for each section might be helpful if you’d like to work with shorter lists.
In the first column, I’ll make a card for each character. The card title will be their name. The description will include their motivations and background. I’ll attach a details list of characteristics as a text file and I’ll upload an avatar as an attachment.
In the next column, each scene card will have a brief description of the scene, including location, characters, and a description of what should happen and how the action will rise during the scene. Each scene’s task type will be the name of the character from whose point of view the scene takes place. That will make it easy to see if I’m leaving a subplot hanging too long when I scan through the scene list.
Randy suggests creating the scene list in a spreadsheet, which works perfectly for me. I’ll just import the sheet into Kanbanery using the CSV import feature. That will put all the cards in the right order in the correct column.
I’ll use Scrivener, which has recently released an iOS version that syncs with Dropbox, so I can work from my iPad or any of my laptops. I’ll have folders for chapters, and each scene will be a separate file. Then, come November first, my goal will be to get two scenes from “To Write” to “Done” every day. If I can do that, by the end of the month I’ll have the first draft of my first novel. I’ll no longer be able to say I’d like to write a novel. I’ll be able to say that I have written a novel.
By setting up my Lead Time report to measure lead time from “Scenes” to “Done” I’ll be able to see the average amount of time that each scene takes. That will also help me to predict whether I’ll finish in time. I’ll have to keep my average lead time per scene down to half a day or less. The weekly reports that Kanbanery will send me by email with my average lead time for the week will be a good reminder to stay on top of this vital metric.