Outline Planning Permission Part 2: Nigel Quinlan

Writing.ie | Resources | Plotting and Planning

Nigel Quinlan

Writing is a creative process and with that there is a need to continually develop the process, improve and hone it. Here children’s writer Nigel Quinlan, author of The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox, describes his efforts to fundamentally change his approach to writing:

Inspired by ERMurray’s #1stDraftDiary, I thought I’d write about writing, or an aspect of writing. Being a writer, I will write about an aspect of writing I am actually not terribly proficient at. So I will be writing about my efforts to improve my proficiency, which I’m sure will be both edifying and instructive. To which is the aspect of writing to what I am referring (not grammar, obvs)?

Read Part 1 here.

The best laid plans of mice and men would probably make a better book that this.

Lucy consisted of 70,000 words and a prologue, and three pieces I wrote to give backstory to some of the characters. I was pretty proud of these.

I threw it all out.

Except for the concept of Lucy losing her speech and ability to read and write, and one of the new backstories, which became a parallel narrative that gives the new draft its spine and impetus, it was all abandoned. I wrote 10,000 words of the new version, and I liked it, but there came a point where the first act reached its conclusion and the possibilities of where to go next were endless.

Now was the time to blaze on and make it up!

Couldn’t do it. Went off and wrote the first draft of Cloak Of Feathers instead – and proceeded to make all the same mistakes.

With Cloak a the publishers, I challenged myself to PLAN. I wrestled with the big issues. What was planning? Was coffee planning fuel? What did it mean to plan? When was I getting another cup of coffee? Wasn’t planning just writing, only without the fun? (No, that’s making radical revisions because you wrote without a proper plan, Nigel.) I drank coffee. I read up on planning. Some was useful, some wasn’t. It became apparent that I was going to have to devise a method that worked for me.

This is where I’m at, by the way. I’m, er, making up my planning as I go along.

I got loads of notebooks and spread them around my desk in a very satisfactory manner.


Even if I never write another word I will regret nothing because this configurations will be my proudest achievement.
Even if I never write another word I will regret nothing because this configurations will be my proudest achievement.

Then I wasted time on the internet. Then I stopped because procrastination gets depressing after a while.

I wrote out the story so far.

I filled a big page with the names of all the characters so far and indicated roughly their relationships.

I made a tentative list of characters who have yet to appear and gave some indication of their roles and relationships.

I made a list of settings and gave rough ideas of how the story moves from place to place and what occurs there. I gave detail where I had them and left things vague where I didn’t, and decided not to worry about the vague bits – that’s rather the point of planning: find the vague bits and fill ‘em in.

I made a list of words I associated with the story as a whole. Random words, some reflecting theme, some mood, some character, some representing nothing yet.

I wrote out my ideas for the rest of the story, asking questions, posing alternatives, highlighting some of the stuff that needed work and trying to remain calm at the vast spaces that remained vague and undefined.

I sat and surveyed what I had done. And it was a start.

PLAN? THERE’S NO PLAN! This? Oh, this isn’t a plan it’s just a series of notes and projection on what I might do…

Next, the characters. Lucy first. Lucy has been around since the story was first written, so I know a lot about Lucy. I filled pages about her, what she’s like, what she wants, how she reacts to what happens, her relationships and attitudes to the other characters, (including Characters Who Have Not Appeared Yet, giving me valuable inroads into these formidable figures,) how those relationships change, and how she finds a way to resolve the story.

I discovered that, yes, this is a creative process. Exciting things are happening, possibilities are opening up, issues are being revealed and resolutions suggested. This is great.

After Lucy, Stephen, her co-protagonist, who I haven’t known as long. More of a challenge, him. His character is well-defined, but Stephen’s is a dark road. His relationships with others are touchier. Stephen doesn’t want to get to know anyone or get close to anyone, not because he’s selfish or a loner, but because he’s desperate.

As of this writing, I’ve done my protagonists and my villains. Next it’s on to the supporting characters, and then the followers of each set of villains, then any minor characters that may appear from time to time. These are weird. That’s a level of planning detail I’ve never contemplated before, preferring to conjure characters as I needed them. This inclined me to throw in too many characters, so I didn’t have to worry about them in advance, but then I had to keep cutting lots of them out.

After that, the Secret History, the background that led to the current crisis. Gratifyingly, bits of it are already emerging through the characters, but I’ll lay it out separately for clarity.

While engaged in this creative ferment, I’ll be noting subjects for research and hopefully, er, researching them. I’m not confident of my abilities as a researcher. I find reading non-fiction difficult. This is another thing I am hoping to change in my approach to writing. Research or STFU.

Back at the planning comes the really hard bit: magic. How does it work? How does it manifest? What are the different types? Magic is going to have sudden, profound and drastic effects on everyone and everything, so I want to know what those effects will be and give it its own internal logic, or, since it’s magic, its own internal illogic. This will determine the nature of the world my characters will inhabit and struggle to damn or save. It will define the visual appearance, the atmosphere and the physical challenges. It’s not everything, but it is a crucial part of what will make the story unique and compelling.

When I’ve done all that, I’ll sit down and write out the plot again and see where I am. Maybe I’ll even be ready to write.

nigel quinlan pic 4
I write because I have to. It supports my coffee habit.

That’s it. I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of my progress, but at some point I’ll be back to talk about how it’s working for me.

Let’s hope it will be ahahahahahPLAN SAILINGahahahahaha

(c) Nigel Quinlan

About Moloney’s Magical Weatherbox

Neil and Lizzie’s Dad is a Weatherman. But not the boring kind that you see on TV. He’s one of the people who make sure that the Seasons change every year.

But this year the Autumn hasn’t arrived. Who is stopping it. Why? And can Neil and Lizzie help their father bring in the Autumn before it’s too late?

This is a rich, magical fantasy adventure from a talented debut author – a story that readers are sure to fall in love with.

Pick up your copy online here!

About the author

Nigel Quinlan is the author of The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox, published last year by Orion in the UK and Roaringbrook Press in the US. His short stories were published in the collection This Way Up. He has had stories in Albedo 1, and, most recently, the summer 2016 issue of The Caterpillar. His next book, The Cloak Of Feathers will be out… um, actually they haven’t given me a publication date yet. ‘In the future.’
He tweets at @Nigellicus, tumbles at nigelquinlan.tumblr.com and facebooks at, er, Facebook.

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