Sunday, April 20, 2008

Prepping the Book - Helen Bianchin

Way back when (let's not be too precise!) I used a pencil (easy to erase), a lined exercise book and dived straight in. The result was pages of indecipherable scribble which meandered with no clear direction. The acquisition of a typewriter meant I could actually read what was written on the page. This was not good. The heroine started out a Nordic blonde which became ash-blonde in the second chapter. The hero's dark eyes changed from brown to slate grey. At least their names remained the same, as did the location.

I needed to be efficient and incorporate a plan. Maybe a character bibliography? Describe the home in which they live, the cars they drive ... even better, employ the visual and search magazines for pictures. This was fun, searching for the actor or model with the right facial features to depict each main character, external and internal pictures of the house, a romantic scene, a sailboat on a glass-smooth lake. Choosing the season.

Incorporating a brief page with this is a story about ... who wants ... but ... because.

Prep work. Over the years I've refined and defined it to suit what works for me. I tried pictures pinned to a cork board ... the cat became fascinated with the drawing pins and pulled them out with his claws (should I mention I'm a cat person with two beautiful Birmans who like to sit on my desk as I work?). Next came folders I could close (and cats couldn't open), except one of the cats chose to sit on it. Okay ... a stand-alone display folder did the trick beautifully. It was only occasionally the cat head-butted it over the edge of the desk. Firm words were said, and we reached a mutual agreement ... he could occupy space on the desk, but the display folder stays.There's a clipboard between keyboard and monitor (check out the photo with cat sitting on same) with printed bibliography on one side, and proposed high points for the work-in-progress on the other. Plus notes, both handwritten and printed.

When I sit down at the computer, it helps to take me there, into the story, the characters ... a delightful fictional world where everything takes shape and form, acquires colours and moods as the characters speak to me.

Of course, there are times when the Muse goes AWOL and I have to prise each word as if chiseling stone ... (but that's another thread!)

So how do you prepare? What methods do you employ to begin?

Helen Bianchin


Pat Cochran said...

I'm a reader, not an author. My only writing experience includes writing
a news column for an area newspaper
and doing publicity items for my
church. Both of these areas are
nowhere near your ballpark! I don't
know how you get into your office to
write, your cat seems to have taken
ownership of the area!!

Michelle Styles said...

Your writing cave looks SO organised. I love seeing other writerrs' writing spaces.

I have nothing as sophisticated as our clip board. I tend to make notes in my notebook before I begin, and maybe have books/brochures about the location scattered on my desk, along with a multitude of other bits of paper,..

My cats generally leave my desk alone. They tend to sit on my knee if I am away from the desk.

Annie West said...

Helen, what a terrific post! I loved the pictures - it's such fun to see where people write.

You sound so wonderfully organised. The clipboard sounds like a great idea. I tend to have a page or two with key plot points or issues for each character on the desk (but often, ahem, buried). I refer to that reasonably often to job my memory. Sometimes too I scrawl a couple of key words that remind me of themes I want to return to and they end up near my monitor.

I don't have cats to keep me company but instead a very big beagle (tall, that is). I just can't imagine her curling up on my keyboard, though I'm sure she'd love to try.


Alli said...

Helen, what a lovely, NEAT writing space you have. So different to mine:)
I have a folder with info I constantly have to stop and open, as well as a whiteboard with ideas scribbled all over it. Did I forget to mention the numerous sheets of paper scattered about my desk? Or my Jack Russell sprawled at my feet *g*
It's great to see (your pics) and hear what methods other writers use to keep everything in order. Thanks.

Anna Campbell said...

Helen, what a great post. I LOVE to hear how other writers put their stories together. Mind you, my main inspiration from reading your post is a burning desire to mount a cat-napping raid on your house. Aren't they gorgeous?

Helen Bianchin said...

Thanks to Pat, Michelle, Annie, Alli and Anna for dropping by. Please believe my desk doesn't always look so organized ... and my cat mainly occupies my desk for an hour late afternoon and again in the evening.
Like you, I love to hear how others write.

All the best

Anonymous said...


What a wonderful surprise. I’ve been on a quest lately reading Helen Bianchin novels. There are so many and they’re all a delightful experience. I’m becoming quite an admirer.

I love the photos. Your world seems so warm, friendly and real. Obviously your cats are at home with a career in writing. You reminded me of Fluffy. Fluffy was a partner’s cat, a sizable number of years ago. I’m not sure Fluffy ever approved of me. I was a student; disrupting my studies and shifting me out were Fluffys missions in life. I needed to read serval books at once because Fluffy would sit, than sleep on anything I tried to read. After a time I learned to lay books a cat and a half apart and how to quietly change focus. Fluffy was no fool. At cat knap intervals he’d check on me and would immediately book a place under my focus; causing another switch. Fluffy had to be tolerated. He and the new partner were a package.

Fluffy has moved on, the partner and I still see each other occasionally around the house.

I’m not sure I feel qualified to offer words about writing, or even trying to write on the same page as your good self. I’ll try; I always use several computers and at least two screens. I picked up this habit working on computer software development, where a computer displays the result while the other is engaged with source files to produce the result. Yes I know! Anyway I have a dossier about my writing on a side screen where I regularly refer, and add information.

A new writing project commences with the creation of the dossier. When I stop adding to the dossier I’m close to understanding where I’m being taken.

I can’t even imagine writing a novel without a computer. Still I guess it would save on electricity.

Thank you Helen, your efforts are treasures.


Robyn Grady said...

Helen, I should have known you were a cat person! My desk looks NOTHING like yours, other than the monitor, keyboard and cat - although mine's black, but just as precious.

Thanks so much for your post and sharing. I should be more organised. Next book ;)

Robbie x

Yvonne Lindsay said...

Helen, your desk! Oh my! I'm speechless. It's soooo tidy and everythings straight. Mine only ever looks like that between books and only if I've had a decent lag time between them. I'm suffering a serious case of desk envy here ;-)

With cats...the only thing that will entice my little black cat onto my desk is if she spies the purple feather adorned pen that Kimberley Young sent me a couple of years ago. I keep hiding it in my filing cabinet and every now and then it makes its way back to my desk. I'll be in another room and then 'wham! thud!' there's war happening on my office floor as she wrestles it off my desk and onto the carpet. I'm tempted to let her have it but the idea of ink all over the house has so little appeal.

At the moment I'm working on a trilogy and I have a ring binder with dividers for each book. I do a fairly long and detailed synopsis and work from that and up on my wall I'll have a collage of my characters and their homes and maybe things, like a collection of words or a picture, that evoke certain scenes for me. I like the idea of a flip file though...I could do A4 collages for inside the file for different stages of the book...

Tina C said...

Hey Helen

Big wave. Come on at least admit to us that you tidied your desk for the photo - PLEASE - you are sooo neat!

Like Robbie - I too should have known you were a cat person - you are too nice to be a dog only lady! (Not that I don't love dogs - big ones with lots of teeth and gentle natures, are best in my book) but I love cats more.

My black Baggie, spends many writing hours with me, but both Binx, the other black and white and the tortoises-shell Fluffy, are known for their dedication in keeping the muse active in my office too.

Yours look like Ragdolls - are they? They are BEAUTIFUL - I'm driving Anna down for the raid!

Bye 4 now

Helen Bianchin said...

It's great to read your comments, and lovely to hear others are animal lovers whose pets keep them company as they work! Eric, thank you. I'm glad you liked the photos. Yvonne, lovely to see you here, and Robbie, thanks for dropping by. Hi, Tina, waving back at you.
Thank you, everyone, for your kind words.

Best wishes

Gigi said...

I am a reader but I agree with your methods. It would be like writing a paper for school. You write down the critical things to the characters and the plots and then hit those computer keys running.
I am an organization freak. It drives my kids crazy. Everything in the house is either color coded,arranged alphabetically,chronologically or by some system.
But I know where everything is.
I hate wasting time finding something I am looking for.

I don't know how you are able to get any work done with the cats so close. I would be petting them and talking to them too much and not be able to get any work done.

Jennie Lucas said...

Helen, I loved seeing the desk where you work! Thanks for sharing this--it's great to imagine you writing all your wonderful books there.

Helen Bianchin said...

Hi Gigi, organization is good! I like to be able to be able to find things, so tend to follow the "a place for everything and everything in its place" motto. Not so sure about colour coding!
As to the cats ... they like to be where I am, and as that's most often at the computer ...


Helen Bianchin said...

Jenny, how lovely of you to post.
Thank you.
I enjoy seeing cyber author friends' writing spaces, too.

Best wishes