Nail your story to the wall

The pinboard novelist Alex Morgan created to help her write Pressmennan

Today, I am officially two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my new novel, Pressmennan. I’m celebrating by killing off one of the characters – and posting a picture of my office pinboard.

When I began writing Pressmennan, other than a few scribbles in my notebook, the only thing I had to help me keep track of my characters and their actions was the Excel spreadsheet I mentioned in a previous post.

As the manuscript has grown, it’s become harder to keep hold of everything, and I decided to create a pinboard so I could see it all at a glance.

I put up a list of characters and a summary of the action still to come. There are sticky yellow notes to remind me of things I might forget to sort out or add in, pictures representing my central characters, and postcards and other keepsakes that illustrate key elements of their story.

It’s a complete visual representation of my novel and has made a huge difference. If you’re working on a major writing project, why not make one too? I just hope I’ve made the resolution low enough on mine so it doesn’t turn into one gigantic spoiler.

And the death? I’m saying no more about it.

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Every novel needs a spreadsheet

Recommended reading

I’ve just spent a very productive week on the lovely Galloway House Estate in south-west Scotland working on my new novel – and I’ve learned three things I think are worth sharing.

1) Excel is the novelist’s friend. It wasn’t until I was deep in the process of revising my first novel, Tandem, that I realised how useful it would have been to have a plan listing the main events of each chapter, who was involved and where to find it in the manuscript. One of the first things I did this week was to create just such a spreadsheet for Pressmennan – and it’s already proving invaluable.

2) My reading brain is easily fooled. When I’m immersed in writing my own fiction, I don’t like to fill my head with other people’s. Not because I think it’ll somehow “influence” me, but because I’ve only got so much space for stories and I need to focus on creating my own. I want to read something for a change of scene, but I find a lot of non-fiction heavy going. I’ve discovered the answer: autobiography. I get the satisfaction of reading something really interesting, and my brain’s happy because it isn’t fiction. My top choice this week was Liza Campbell’s Title Deeds, the riveting story of her dysfunctional upbringing in a Scottish castle.

3) Every book needs at least one dog. My other reading matter was Terry Darlington’s Narrow Dog to Carcassonne, the wonderful tale of his travels by narrow boat through England, Belgium and France accompanied by his wife Monica and Jim, their pork-scratching-loving whippet. Jim is a star. As Terry says, he is “cowardly, thieving and disrespectful and hates boating” – and the book wouldn’t be half so much fun without him. There are several dogs in Title Deeds, and Tandem features a greyhound called Bovis. Pressmennan, although only five chapters long so far, already has its quota of dogs – dachshunds Oscar and Peterson, aka the Wee Buggers. I think Jim would like them!

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