Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Novel Party Planning

This past few days I have mostly been distracted from writing thinking about how planning a novel is a little bit like planning a party...

First there's the guest list. I always want to invite everyone (just like I have lots of characters I'd like to include in my novel) but there are limits to what one modest house or narrative can take and it's important to have a little order at this point! Invites are usually based on why we're having a party in the first place. For us, this is usually about an opportunity to get people together but which people? 

Who to leave out of a party or a novel is a tough decision!

We usually have 'key characters'; visiting relatives, friends we haven't seen for a long time; an older family member who's feeling a little cut off from people, younger family members who we haven't seen in a while, (any excuse!) and once this is clear we know who else we can invite which makes leaving some people out more bearable. 

Remembering details about people and how they interact with others helps. An aunt who is uncomfortable around small children won't thank you for gathering the great nieces and nephews in her honour! A balance is required to secure a successful narrative!

Setting is crucial of course. For most of the parties we have planned the venue has been our home (we don't really do 'formal') but the setting has changed as we've moved house and the 'setting' can be different depending on the time of year. Although we'd have to be VERY optimistic to think we can get away with having a complete party outside, we often find it useful to plan some outside activities; a walk in the woods, build a snow man competition, a huddle round the chimenea with a hot toddy. 

In this way the setting and the atmosphere take shape and then it's time to consider the way the plot might unfold.

Planning the food and drink of a party are a bit like planning the main plot of a novel. The kind of food and drink we serve and the way in which we serve it will, to an extent, determine the ways in which the characters will interact with each other and the story unfold. A sit down dinner with the adults in the dining room, the kids in the study and those unfortunate not enough to grab a seat quickly enough perched in the kitchen will give different opportunities for interaction than a free for all buffet! Wine, beer, cocktails, champagne? All add their own flavour and of course we shouldn't forget the soft drink option (this is always my downfall and usually involves somebody being dispatched for supplies at some point!).

As much as I absolutely love having a house full of guests eating and drinking and making memories, I also always like to have something of an exit strategy. It's important to anticipate how things might come to an end; when and how people will take their leave going away fuller, happier and a little bit changed by the experience?

Party or novel, careful planning is important. We don't want to leave anyone out or, worse still, lose them once they're here. Ultimately though the planned elements have to be flexible and allow the narrative to unfold, it's the unexpected happenings that people will remember most. 

I'm very new to this novel planning business but I am good at planning parties - we've had some great ones over at ours. I love the bit in the party where you step back and watch it all happening. I think that's where I'm coming unstuck with my writing - I've made LOTS of plans and I think I keep hoping they'll all just get on with it now!


  1. Love the analogy but I suspect you won't be able to stand back and watch. It's more like organising a kids party where you have to organise wall-to-wall games or your characters will all run wild... but then I find they run wild even if you do organise wall-to-wall games!

  2. Rosalind, I think you're right! And I am very much sensing chaos!

  3. Love the party planning, novel planning analogy. My problem is that I just make everything up at the last minute and am rubbish at planning. That applies to what I write too. I have half written so many odds and ends, and then just get lost with it all and give up. Anyway! I have subscribed to your blog and look forward to your updates! :O) Kay x

  4. Well, as you can see from lack of updates here - I'm not great at sticking at my writing projects! We should make a pact - MUST TRY HARDER!!! I hope to 'reward' your subscription ;))