When I was writing Unthinkable, I had a pretty good idea where the story was going. Since it was my first novel, it took me about a year and a half as I filled it out and brought the story up to the expectations a reader should have, i.e., I sort of worked with a natural feel for what it should be.
When I wrote Seen Sean?, I have to confess that I wasn’t really sure what the outcome was going to be, so I wrote rather aimlessly. As a result, it took me about four years to write it.
There’s no reason for a genre novel of that length to take that much time. I learned my lesson. So with a bit of thought and some reading about story structure, plotting, etc., I found a "structure sheet" for my next Mason & Penfield Mystery, [title redacted]. Rather than getting a presentation board and sticky notes (the method I used to repair Seen Sean?), I set the structure thing up in a spreadsheet, as shown here. (Blurring in the image is intentional, naturally).
I.e., there are eighty blocks, divided into eight equal groups. Think of each block as a scene. A turning point comes at the end of each of these eight groups, a major turning point at the quarters. Notice there is something in the last scene of each block (except at the very end, where I left room for an epilog). The earlier blocks are filled in more thoroughly than the later blocks because I expect to learn things about the characters, have additional plot ideas, etc., as I write that will help fill in the later blocks — indeed, this has already happened with a character I realized needed to take a turn I had not expected; I can now write this character with a little better notion of where he’s going.
Notice there are some boxes that have some red text in them: The red color indicates the important story points (plot, story, theme, character, whatever) that are established in that scene. Where a scene has green text, I know there needs to be something on a particular subject that happens or is revealed or is foreshadowed or … but I know what the kind of thing is.
Will you share any thoughts on how your process is structured?