Every writer exists somewhere on the planning spectrum, with some working out every tiny detail before putting pen to paper and others charging ahead and discovering the story as they write. International best-selling crime author Sophie Hannah recently shared her particular techniques for writing her novels, which involve intricate up-front planning.
Sophie makes a distinction between story architecture and actual writing, countering the assumption that planning risks taking the ‘fun’ out of the process. Here are her six core techniques:
Sophie Hannah’s six planning techniques
- One-or-two-line elevator pitch: that is, how I would describe the driving narrative force in the book to someone who knew nothing about it.
- Blurb: More detailed story description in maximum two paragraphs, containing strong plot hook
- Setting: Time and Place, e.g. Paradise Valley, Arizona, 2017 in the case of Did You See Melody?
- Characters: A list of all characters, major and minor. Names, ages, personalities, appearances, and anything else I think would be useful to know about them.
- Background Information: this is anything I want to bear in mind before the action of the story begins, e.g.: ‘Carol and Bob used to be married and live in London. Then they adopted a child who was allergic to gluten, so they moved to a gluten-free gated estate in New Zealand, and after three uneventful years of living there…
- Then I’d write the heading ‘Chapter-by-Chapter Plan’ and write a detailed description of what will happen in each chapter. This includes everything important, from murders to ‘Carol wondered if Bob was giving her a funny look – but was she imagining it?’ If a chapter is divided into two or three scenes (as mine often are) then I separate those scenes with a little row of asterisks.
In September we’re hosting the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, which will feature the debut performance of The Generalist, a new crime musical from Sophie. You can find out more and book tickets here.