The piece of reflection on writing for today comes from Ian Rankin, author of the first book I mentioned in this episode.

First of, if you like Ian Rankin, then make sure you listen to the podcast episode where I heard this bit of insight. The podcast name is “A Stab in the Dark” and the episode is number 12.

Ian Rankin talks about how his work has progressed and also about his craft as writer.

As I am someone who likes to discover my story is as I write it (I’m terrible at coming up with plots and stories “cold”, I have to be in writing mode) I was interested to hear that Rankin also unravels the plot as he writes.

He adds notes about the plot as he discovers who the characters are. When he starts the first draft he knows as little as the detective

“I am the detective”, he says. The plot almost never goes where he plans it to go. He doesn’t know the ending when he starts and many crime writers don’t.

“If I knew what was going to happen I wouldn’t need to write the story”.

And he actually does the research after the first draft, so that:

“He knows what he needs to know”.

I find that an interesting point, doing the research after the first draft.

I’ve tried that with a non-fiction book I’m writing at the moment “Online Meetings that Rock”, because I’m a research fanatic. My fear is that I start researching and never get down to writing, because it is just so much more comfortable.

I can see how that can happen with fiction too. So, I would say, if you are someone who gets stuck in the research phase as a way of procrastinating, then leave it until you have your first draft. Get down to writing, “vomit it all out” – that’s how I refer to it, it’s just about dumping everything from our subconscious down there, the heavy sifting comes later (or I could say, the sluicing, when you sift the gold from the sand… hey, some of this vocabulary is actually going in…)

I also think that, regardless whether you plan your stories in advance or whether you just discover them fully as you write, it’s worth listening to Rankin’s point about the plot evolving as he discovers who the characters are.

Characters usually evolve as we get to know them better and they might even change. Make sure the plot changes with them.