A fascinating post from Brian, and of course I can't resist throwing in my own two-pennyworth...
Unlike some of us, I am not very fecund with ideas: it takes me a long time to arrive at a situation I'm willing to spend the next six months living and breathing, and before I start I need to know that it has the legs to get to reach a conclusion. As a minimum, before I start writing a story I know the beginning and the end, sometimes with not a great deal more. I'll also have a protagonist and some, but not all, of the supporting cast.
For my first novel-length story, The Zael Inheritance, I had established my all the main characters and the plot structure in some detail. It changed very little although I added two chapters before the original starting point. Dragonchaser, my next effort, was less planned, with only the beginning, the end and the three main characters in my head. I knew this was to be a novel of political intrigue and I wanted to let those intrigues play out without being constrained by too much advance thinking.
The Dog of the North was somewhere in the middle. The book is structured around two interlocking plot strands and I needed to understand how they fitted together (and chart the somewhat complex chronology) before I began. I also prepared a lot of background material:
- a spreadsheet with timelines for all the main characters
- a thousand word essay on "The Way of Harmony", the religion which underpins the entire book
- a piece of similar length on the Knights of Emmen, who feature nowhere in the book
- a summary of events taking place between The Dog of the North and Dragonchaser, in which King Enguerran, an off-stage figure in the former, is a central character.
Fantasy writers have to do all this world-building stuff to create a convincing fictional reality. Unlike, say, crime novels, there is very little shared background between writer and reader (and what is shared is usually a store of cliches the author may want to deconstruct), so a big part of my job as a writer is to convey my world in a way that's efficient but unobtrusive. When I was plotting The Dog of the North I had long walks to and from work each day, and this was where I did the best of my thinking. By the time I started writing I had most of the main characters fleshed out and a detailed understanding of life in Croad and Mettingloom, the two locales of the book, as well as a sense of the bigger "story behind the story".
Once I am in the drafting stage, I reckon to write 1,000 to 1,300 a day, usually in the evening. For The Dog of the North I took a week off work when I managed to write 20,000 words which was invaluable in generating a powerful momentum. Writing two plots was a challenge: originally I wrote them in the order they would be read, but I found switching between them every two or three days disruptive, so for the last third of the book I wrote one storyline to its conclusion before finishing the other. As a result of this, when I came to edit the book I put the strands together in bigger chunks, so that the reader has to switch between stories less frequently.
What about the rest of you? How do you write? And for those of you working in genre, are there are any special considerations which affect the way you work?