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Posts tagged ‘Planning’

[7 Ways You Needn’t Be] Failing to Plan…

…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!!!

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Once the dust has settled… 6 ways forward!

You have a manuscript of 60,000 words.

It is undeniably poor quality.  Barely literate in truth.

But it does have a start, a middle and an end – it tells a story.

It is a novel.

You have written your first draft and can justifiably say you are an unpublished writer.

Elation, pride, relief, disbelief.

Then reality swoops in with piercing claws, regaining your attention.

It takes a supreme effort to re-read the dross you’ve churned out under duress of writing on demand every night for a month.  The story meanders.  The characters are vague and contradictory.  The sentences are poorly constructed, littered with typos.  And yes, in places, your writing bores you.  From ecstatic high you plunge to a new nadir. What on earth do you do next?

If nothing else, writing a hurried first draft teaches you how little you know.  How far you have to go.  Yet you MUST remember that you have addressed the hardest obstacle, that first step on any journey that takes you beyond your own front door.

Here are 6 practical steps to reignite your passion and enthusiasm for your novel – give no thought to resolving the lists of problems and questions at this time.

  1. Read novel – make no notes, no hasty decisions.
  2. Make a sheet for each character – note what you deduce about them when re-reading your novel.
  3. Start a list of questions – any questions about anything from plot to character to theme to realism – do not try to answer any of them.
  4. Make a list of research areas.
  5. Write a brief summary of what happens in each chapter – add this to your chapter title to let you  navigate your novel at light speed.
  6. Make a list of your favourite novels – try to concentrate on the genre that you are writing yourself.  This is your library from which to learn a writer’s techniques – everything from inverting expectations to punctuation of dialogue.

These measures will propel you forward from your first draft.  You will find that every walk to the shops, every tube journey or baby’s bottle-feeding time will yield several additions to these lists.

So give yourself a pat on the back – you are now an unpublished writer with momentum!

And by the time your diary frees up a half-day you will have enough material to begin the next stage with serious intent – Planning.

No Such Thing as a Bad First Draft

So how does it happen?

You’ve always wanted to write a book, right?

You have a dozen ideas for novels that vary from a bullet point to several semi-legible scenes you scrawled on the the last booze-tube home.

You might even have a few characters defined in greater detail, an actor or two in mind for the inevitable casting when book turns to film.

So how do you make the next miraculous step to possessing that most wonderful of things, a first draft?

A little inspiration is required or, as Elvis might say with a shimmy of the hips, “A little less conversation, a lot more action.”

For me, the inspiration came from my favourite author, Jacqueline Carey.  Jacqueline publicised a local challenge to Write a Novel in a Month.  Requirements for success were merely a story that has a beginning, middle and an end, weighs in at 50,000 words or more and, you’ve guessed it, is written in a month.

Now I’m decent at maths, or math if you’re from the States.  So that equates to roughly 1,700 words a day.  That’s not far off four sides of A4.

Hey, I though, that is totally doable!

And it is.

It’s probably best to give yourself a writing hiatus for a week, where you jot down ideas and bullet points for your chosen idea – some sweeping strokes to shape your first first draft.  I don’t believe you can learn to plan a project of this magnitude in the required detail until you’ve had a bash at it first.  Planning helps of course, but this is all about action.

By the time Day 1 of 30 arrives you have several things in place.  A broad plan.  Writing equipment – I used a Netbook, with the advantage of extreme portability married to an ability to type at great speed, plus wordcount and editing facility for later – though a pad and pen will suffice.  A time(s) of day allocated as Writing Time with high priority, with minimal distractions – ensure you are well fed and watered, have used the bathroom and are not too tired – NOTHING gets in the way of Writing Time!  A graph of daily wordcount – keep it simple, but make sure you can see when you are “above the line” on your 1,700 words-per-day target.  Two hours a day is ample – a minute simply cannot be allowed to pass without adding to your wordcount!

Then Go Go Go!!!

Several days in, you will realise that you are going to do it.  You are above target and you have momentum.  Quality is not just secondary, it is irrelevant.  Only the wordcount matters.   You have irrepressible freedom in storyline as a result.  And you don’t even need drugs or alcohol to achieve it.

You will succeed – it is a self-fulfilling premise.

From that point you may re-read at your leisure – I would wait at least a week to bask in your own personal glory.  Sure, the content will be rough, storylines throwing up dozens more questions than they answer – but that’s the point!  Have fun with it!

If, like me, you find that, having written what is undeniably THE FIRST DRAFT OF A NOVEL, you are awash with invincibility, this process will have brought its own reward.

So I doff my cap to Jacqueline Carey once more – I hope more of you do too in a month’s time so that I can congratulate you on your FIRST first draft.