I start thinking about a novel long before
I start writing it. (The best part of having had writer's block
for so long is that I've got a huge stock of ready-matured ideas
lined up!) I like novels to have big climaxes, where one thing builds
up on top of another on top of another, for fifty and more pages.
That kind of climax doesn't come without planning. But it has to
be the right sort of planning not making a framework that
your story is forced to follow, but getting the set-up right at
the beginning, so that your climax grows naturally out of it.
With practise and experience, I find I now know
when I've got all the material for a big rolling climax, without
having to decide exactly how it'll work out. I think of it like
riding on the back of some gigantic beast: you know the place where
you need to arrive in the distance, but you also know you can't
make this beast perform sudden turns. In fact, you can hardly control
it at all. So you have to start nudging and directing right from
the beginning, when you still have the opportunity.
I think a fantasy needs planning for another
reason too because the world of a fantasy should always be
larger than just a single story. It should run off beyond the pages
of the novel, over the edges. The novelist needs to make up all
the elements for a totally comprehensive, totally consistent world,
even though many of those elements will never make it into the final
writing. None of my novels manages to include all the features of
the world invented for it and most fantasy writers I know
have said the same. It's like the useful trick of inventing a life
history for your characters once you've done it, you may
not need to use it.
So I plan and plan, and gradually it comes together.
I have mountains of notes, along with systems for navigating amongst
them (sheets of different coloured paper, different coloured pens,
cardboard trays, clothes pegs, etc.). I think all writers develop
their own systems . . .