…is planning to fail. Or so the business cliche goes. But is it as clear-cut as that with novel-writing?
Theory seems to be split between two approaches. Either you allow your characters freedom to stretch their wings and grow, having whim and circumstance take their story where it will, or you plan first. You plan how the book is going to end, what the major surprises are going to be, the minor climaxes and the building momentum of the plot, right down to what happens in each scene.
Having tried both, I must admit I advocate…. BOTH!
You will almost certainly have some notion of where you want to take your story, no matter how many flowers are dropping from your curtained hair onto your flairs.
And, as you’ll remember from my first blog entry, I recommend the JFDI approach to beginning your first novel (that’s Just, er, Do It!).
But sooner or later you will reach a point of evaluation, where you need to plan your novel’s direction. For me, this came after writing about two thirds of a first draft, resorting to filling in the remainder in bullet points and windy chapter summaries.
So how did I start to plan?
1) I skim-read a few How To… writing books, amalgamating their Planning recipes as if I were making a pie with unique ingredients.
2) I started with The End in mind. For me, that meant the end of Book 1, but also with growing alertness to the end of Books 3, 6 and 9! The semi-resolution ending each book must have seeds in Book 1.
3) Even more helpful was establishing turning points. The shocks or reveals have to be spectacular, surprising yet logically justifiable. Not at all easy, but as a writer these are great problems to have! Resolving them is truly where our craft is put to use. Several of my characters had to be re-written more mysteriously, being sensibly misinterpreted by the Viewpoint characters.
4) Keep reading great books of the genre you are writing. Re-evaluate them for length (word count), language (pertinent for YA or culturally specific writing), hook, methods of maintaining suspense, delivery of the big “reveals” and ending (happily ever after, open for sequel, as good as it gets or massacre!).
5) Build timelines for each character and chapter – incorporate time and date into chapter titles for ease of editing your script.
6) Aim for a summary of what happens in each and every scene of your novel, with space to write below. To allow characters to breathe again, feel free to pick and choose which scene to write until you feel you are making no more progress. Then work on the critical “blocking” scene that must be resolved to set a direction for other chapters.
7) Don’t forget that no amount of planning will write the book! When planning isn’t progressing, write! When writing isn’t happening, plan! If all else fails, research or read, read, read!
In summary: write, plan, alternate both with reading, but above all JFDI!!!