How I wrote ‘The Sentinel’

Part 2: Pre-writing

After I found the Guardian article, ‘How to Write a Novel in 30 Days’, (which I talked about in an earlier blog post), I spent much more than 30 days actually working through the templates!

I estimate it took me nearly a year to work through the structure, character development, timeline of events, plot points and sequencing, let alone the research required to give the reader an authentic experience of lighthouse life.

Not only did I work on the templates I’d downloaded from The Guardian website but I also used a small whiteboard I bought from Officeworks to diagram the novel’s structure.

Wilson’s Promontory Lighthouse – the original inspiration for ‘The Sentinel’

Years ago I’d done a professional writing course and as part of that course, I did a scriptwriting stream where we learnt the craft of the 3 Act story structure. Basically this is a curve where you plot where the end of Act 1, the midpoint, end of Act 2 and the end of Act three occur. Sort of like this:

Once I’d worked out the events that occurred at the end of each major section of the novel, I filled in the gaps in between with different key events, or plot points. Some writers call them ‘beats’ but whatever the name, I found this process helped me work out where I was going and what I was aiming for in every scene and chapter. This might sound like an easy process but I found I constantly had to revise this as the story grew. I got lost in the story itself many, many times.

The inspiration for the setting of ‘The Sentinel’ came from a visit to Wilson’s Prom lighthouse

Other tricks I used to help me design the story was writing out scenes on cue cards to visualise what was happening and to give me an overview of the whole storyline. I put these all over one wall of my room and moved them around into different columns I’d labelled to help me figure out which event should go where.

One of the hardest parts of the novel was the timeline. I drew up a calendar on my whiteboard (it was getting pretty full by this point) and put key events into the calendar to help me see if the timeline would work or not. I had to play around with this for a while to make sure the events made sense, helped drive the plot, and reached a climax at the right point.

One final trick a writer friend told me about was to find images of my characters online and then print these images out and stick them on my wall. This was such a fun idea, and so helpful. I knew when I’d found Kathleen, and the joy when I found a picture of Mr Johannsson! Not only did this idea help me ‘see’ the characters but it also helped me describe them and to work out particular tics (or character traits) that would help the reader ‘see’ them too. For instance, the way Mrs Johannsson twists her handkerchief in her hands hints at her inner turmoil. It allows the reader to see her torment without being told that she is suffering.

Possible interpretation of how Thomas looked – image source – State Library of Queensland

This was the ‘pre-writing’ phase. Next time I’ll go into detail on the writing itself.

See you then.


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