I had a vague overall idea about what I wanted to happen in The Viking and the Vendetta, but that was it: I let the book evolve as I was writing, relying on ideas to crop up when I needed them to. This is the brass-rubbing technique of writing I’ve described before. I did feel a little frightened when I’d finished the penultimate chapter but still had no clear idea about what was going to happen in the final one. I knew that certain things needed to happen, I just wasn’t sure how they would unfold. This has happened before, though, so I was hopeful that I’d be able to come up with the answers eventually.

After a good night’s sleep I woke up and started having ideas. I’m sure that my unconscious mind was working away on the problem as I slept. The final 3,500 words of the book poured out of me and onto the keyboard in one glorious day, quite often surprising me in the direction they took.

I don’t do a lot of on-paper planning of what is going to happen in my stories, but I do keep a digital mind-map of the writing process. This is divided into sections, one for each group of three chapters. I make a note of the main scenes of each chapter: sometimes after I’ve written, but other times beforehand, when I know what needs to happen but haven’t got round to writing it yet. It starts off as a fairly simple mind map, but ends up looking like a dog’s dinner:

Viking and Vendetta mind map

There are a few notes at the top left about important aspects of the story, but the rest is just a chapter-by-chapter summary of the work-in-progress, marked off with a green tick when the chapter is completed. I also make a note of how many words are in each chapter, so that they’re approximately the same length, give or take 500 words. For these books, the chapter length seems to have settled at around 3,250 words. It just happened that way; I’m not sure that there’s an optimum word length for chapters.

I did something similar with The Roman and the Runaway, but that one was a lot simpler and I didn’t use it as consistently as I did with the second book. It stops at Chapter 11 and the name of the main female character was still Connie when I last updated it, not Pagan as she became a bit later.

Roman and Runaway mind map

The software I use for these maps is Freemind. Which, as the name suggests, is free. I’m sure there are more sophisticated tools out there, but this one works very well for my novel-mapping purposes.

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