Joe Abercrombie On Planning

This week we have a treat for you! You’ve seen a little bit about Joe Abercrombie’s new novel Red Country, we’ve revealed the cover and the copy and today – and for the rest of the week – we’re delighted to host a series of blog pieces from Joe Abercrombie himself, about the process through which he creates his bestsellers. So with no further ado, we welcome Joe!


No good bricklayer, child-minder or brain surgeon would start work without a plan, and for me writing’s no different.

When I started work on my first book, The Blade Itself, the ideas had been stewing away for years in some cases, but even while working on more recent books I’ll occasionally be thinking about what will come next, so that when I come to start a project in earnest I’ll usually have some vague notion of the sort of book I’d like to write, what the rough plot might be, the key settings, the central characters, perhaps the outline of some important scenes.

When sitting down to plan in a focused way I start thinking about these things in more detail. Splitting the book into parts and thinking about where each will be set, what the start and end points will be and how we might get between them, what pieces of action I’d like to cover, what will be the characters and their relationships, what twists would I like to put into the plot and how might they be managed. Sometimes snatches of dialogue or quite specific action will suggest themselves and I try to bung those down for later use. Inspiration must be snatched, for it comes but rarely. I’m trying to manoeuvre my characters around to give the reader the best view on the action – the way a director might move his cameras around to best cover a scene, perhaps – while still developing their own stories. Generally though I’m trying not to get too bogged down in how it will all knit together. Experience has taught me that, inevitably, some sections will come together easily and even at this stage you’ll have a strong idea how they might play out, others will look pretty vague.

There are some technical things to do, you could say – drawing up a timeline for characters so you make sure things like ages and timings of key events in the past make sense, drawing a map of your invented terrain, of course, to make sure the geography works, although for me story tends to dictate terrain rather than the other way around, so I usually draw up a map relatively late in the process and amend it as I go to suit the dictates of the story.

It’s important not to let the planning throttle things, though. I’ll know the setting and the rough plot for each part, some idea of what each point of view character needs to do, but usually I only plan the first part in any close detail, working out exactly what each chapter is going to contain. In the case of Red Country, my forthcoming book, I left the end pretty vague right up until the point I started planning the last part. I find that, until you start the actual writing, your sense of your central characters is generally going to be somewhat diffuse. Sometimes it isn’t until you’re getting towards the end of the book that you really get a feel for them, understand what makes them tick. So there has to be some flex in your planning, the opportunity for the details to shift as the characters shift. Ideally, plot and character change to suit each other as you go along.

Now to actually start writing . . .

Tune in tomorrow for more!

Joe Abercrombie is a full time writer and occasional freelance film editor who lives in Bath with his wife and three children. You can visit his website for more information, check out the cover for Red Country here, or follow the link to watch the teaser trailer for Red Country. You can pre-order your copy here .