On the publication day of the brilliant Stasi Wolf, I am pleased to welcome one of my favourite authors to the blog. The ever so clever David Young, author of historical crime novels set in Communist East Germany!
David Young talks today about the wonderful world of plotting novels.
Stasi Wolf is published by Zaffre on 9 February 2017 and is available to buy here
How I plot my novels
by David Young
Readers of this blog will no doubt be very familiar with the terms ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’ – the former being writers who plan everything out before embarking on their first draft, the latter flying by the seat of their pants.
I’m very much a plotter, and that’s how it was with Stasi Child and now Stasi Wolf, and my as yet untitled Book 3 which I’m just about to start knocking into shape after receiving the first set of comments from my editor at Bonnier Zaffre.
So I’ll start with an idea, which might be nothing more than a line or a setting (with Stasi Wolf it was a story I heard about the Stasi taking over a baby deaths inquiry at a Leipzig hospital because they didn’t want news to leak out). I’ll then expand that idea into a very short synopsis of a few paragraphs, if my agent or publisher wants one.
Next I do a flow diagram – a series of idea bubbles about how things might pan out. At every stage, one idea often leads on to another, and I’ll pencil in those links. This might cover a page, or at most two, of A4 paper.
I’ll also try to do an action or tension graph of the novel – working out where the high points of drama might be. I did a bit of fell walking in my childhood and teens, and I always remember the frustration of false horizons on a walk. The moment when you think you’ve reached the summit, but there’s still another higher climb ahead. I try to have that sense of double climax in my novels – to me it makes things more satisfying. But my editor’s always telling me my endings drag on for too long!
Once I’ve got those ideas reasonably clear in my head, I’ll start constructing a scene or chapter list. The accompanying photo is an early chapter list for Stasi Wolf – originally called Stasi Babies by me, but that title was ruled out by both agent and publisher!
As it contains spoilers, I’ve obscured some of it.
Because I’m using two separate narratives, I colour code the characters I’m telling it through.
I try to think up about sixty different scenes or chapters, working on the basis of an average of 1,500 words per chapter. Some will end up longer, some shorter, but that way I know that I have the skeleton or road map for a novel of around 90,000 words.
As you can see, each chapter has a sentence or two describing what happens (although I’ve obscured the actual descriptions).
Armed with this, I’ll set aside about eight weeks to write my first draft – usually aiming for around 2,500 words a day, sometimes hitting 5,000 or so a day if I need to catch up (although this summer I did an experiment where I managed to hit 10,000 words a day for four days in a row – but that’s another story for later in this blog tour).
So I’m very much a plotter. In fact, my writing is almost the equivalent of painting by numbers! I’m sure this won’t work for everyone, but it seems to for me. Once I’m in the swing of things, then some ‘pantsing’ does come into play. I might dream up new chapters, or abandon ones I don’t think are working. But my chapter list is still my road map.
Without it I’m as lost and confused as Oberleutnant Karin Müller is in the maze of nameless streets of Halle-Neustadt at the start of Stasi Wolf.
Stasi Wolf – Publisher Description
How do you solve a murder when you can’t ask any questions? The gripping new thriller from the bestselling author of Stasi Child.
East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.
But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image.
Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive . . .
Check out David Young‘s Website here
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Buy Stasi Wolf on Amazon UK
My five star review is here Stasi Wolf – David Young