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Plotting and Planning

4th January 2017 | By | One Comment

If there’s one thing I have come to learn from my years on this planet, it’s that we are all different, and we all have different ways of doing things. I am often asked about how I write a novel; about the processes from first idea to actually producing a finished book many months later. As if there is a wrong or right way. It stumps me. Every time I start a new novel I have absolutely no idea how I wrote the last one, and I still get the same sense of panic when I’m trying to pull all the story strands into a satisfying whole as I did writing an essay for my English teacher. But, here goes, this is my technique:

I do a lot of thinking once I have an idea germ loose in my head. You have to give yourself permission to just stare at the wall, it’s essential to let the creativity out. I do internet research, and ask appropriate experts for help with technical stuff. In my current book, Death and The Good Son,

I couldn’t have managed without the generous help of Dr Laura Evis at Exeter University. I also find that people are very willing to help as long as they are acknowledged for their contribution. And have a character named after them, of course…

I then use an A4 piece of paper to outline a rough plan, with headings. Laid out like a spidergram, it lets me get all my ideas on one page and see where there may be gaps or over-crowding. I add in relationship stuff, introduce new characters and outline the murder plot. It’s messy. So I then stick several sheets of A4 together into a long line, and draw out a timeline of events with lines for police, baddies and any other stories I want to run. I add in the climaxes and other deaths, too. For instance, in Book 3, Dan Hellier will be dealing with his sister, and that will require its own timeline. It’s not part of the murder investigation, but it has major repercussions on Dan. Possibly it is still messy, but that’s the only detailed planning I’ll do, so I give it quite a lot of time and attention.

Next I set up a new Scrivener file, and add lots of blank scene/chapter pages. (Please contact me if you want to know more about why I love Scrivener!) I title each page with the action for that scene. E.g; body found, post-mortem, so it’s easy to go back to a scene, to add to or delete a scene. It’s so much easier than working in Word. I also add character sketches into the Scrivener file – I have to nail them down early or I change the characters all the time, and then have to go back and change them again…

Once I have a rough scene by scene set of headings, I get writing. Currently I’m at the long timeline stage and I’ve had a go at chapter 1. I’ll keep you updated over the next few months as the book takes shape.



  1. Always enjoy reading about process, Bernie & how we each have our own routine. Crime writing must require acute attention to detail & lots of meticulous planning – a bit like how a detective works! I write very different stories to you & my process is more random. (In no way am I a linear writer.) Where we are on the same page (sorry!) is not fully understanding how the last book got written! I look forward to reading more about your next.

    Is there a way I can subscribe to your blog – I can’t find anything to click!

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