Good morning fellow writers,
After idea formation, the next stage in my writing process is what I call pre-planning. This takes place once I have a nugget of an idea. What I am trying to achieve is a skeleton; something to which I can later add flesh.
I am the first to admit that I am something of a bureaucrat when it comes to writing. I like structure. I like a plan. I am not one of those gifted authors who can knock out a 3,000-word, pre-formed story in one sitting and who never has to touch it again (more’s the pity!). Dour as it sounds, I use a pro-forma document at the start of each of my projects, an example of which is below.
This is a direct lift from the planning for my short story ‘Watan’, which was written in 2015 before being published by Literally Stories in 2016. This is in no way prescriptive but helps me to understand what I need to research and organise in order to write my story. I take no care here with grammar or syntax, spelling or spacing. This is a working document, and not one which will ever be seen by anyone (pre-blog, at least!).
|Convenience Store (working title)|
|Deprived Glasgow housing estate|
|1st person narrator – one sided verbal conversation.|
|Depression, immigration, poverty, crime, deprivation, responsibility|
|Asian shopkeeper-has relatives back in Pakistan whom he supports
Local drug addict
|Story is one half of a conversation between an Asian shopkeeper and a drug addict (not clear at start state of customer or establishment-make it appear as though it is posh). He takes the customer through his options re alcohol in a servile manner, gradually coming down from fine reds etc to a bottle of buckie. Similarly with tobacco, as it becomes clear that the customer is a scumbag with the shakes. Shopkeeper becomes increasingly dry and bitter as he contrasts his lifestyle of hard work with the self-indulgence and myopic nature of the addict. Addict then pulls a knife and the shopkeeper shuts begins an increasingly aggressive monologue aimed at the addict. He drives the point that the addict has only targeted him because of his perceived ‘otherness’, yet the shopkeeper is far more imbedded in Scottish society than him. Reveal shopkeeper’s journey to Scotland and his history in Pakistan. Emphasise that whereas the addict is alone due to his problems, the shopkeeper has connections throughout Glasgow, and that any robbery will be swiftly avenged. Addict panics and runs off. Sirens are heard as the shopkeeper returns to menial chores.
|BOWES, A; J MCCLUSKEY; D SIM (1990) “The changing nature of Glasgow’s ethnic-minority community”. Scottish Geographical Magazine, 106(2), 99-107
Bailey, Nick; Alison Bowes, Duncan Sim (1995) “Pakistanis in Scotland: Census Data and Research Issues”. Scottish Geographical Magazine, 111(1), p.36-45
Hamid, Mohsin (2008) The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Great Britain: Penguin
Sidhwa, Bapsi (ed) (2005) City of Sin and Splendour-writings on Lahore. London:Penguin
My pre-planning document serves three main purposes. Firstly, it forces me to focus upon some of the more prosaic elements of the piece. Sometimes it is easy to become fixated upon plot to the detriment of location, character, or narrator. As I work my way down this document, I am obliged to consider each aspect in turn. This makes me consider the effect that each has upon the story itself, so that I repeatedly ask myself ‘How will this work?’. How can I convey a robbery using first person narrative? How can I include the protagonist’s history in a short story encompassing twenty minutes? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it highlights the research still necessary for the project. In the case of ‘Watan’, I was writing about post-partition Pakistan and a culture with which I was not conversant. A lot of research to do here, then!
Many writers find this part of the process mind-numbingly boring. They are keen to get stuck in and put their foot down on the word count pedal. For me, this is where I have the most freedom – I can do anything at this stage. Change the narrator from third to first person? No problem. Move the plot across continents? No sweat. This process is so important to my writing precisely because it allows me to play around without the shackles of a first draft; I am untethered by plot, unhindered by work I have already completed.
It also serves a third and slightly more psychological purpose. No matter how many times I hear William Wordsworth’s ‘To begin, begin,’ I always hesitate before starting to tickle those keys. I get the same sensation before writing on an exam paper, a feeling that the wind hasn’t really caught in my sails yet. That is why I find it helpful to have my pre-planning up on the left of my screen as I start to type or research. It is my skeleton, and if it does nothing else, it gives physical form to my project. It might sound incredibly boring to those writers who value instinct and intuition over cold, hard planning, but I find great comfort in the banality of fleshing out that skeleton!