Last week, we asked whether or not any of your were planners or ‘pansters’…in other words, whether you plan out the story you are writing, or just open a blank document and start writing. Some of you may already have your technique down, while others, like me, are still learning what works best.
If you are a planner, I don’t understand you.
Just kidding! Sort of…
The last story I wrote, I literally started with a first sentence and ran with it; I had no end in mind, and certainly no middle or any ideas of the characters I’d meet along the way. And it worked…in a way. By the end, I’d found a home for three characters I imagined years ago, which was awesome, and ended up with a trilogy!
However, I had to rewrite the entire beginning to match where I ended up. Not really fun, having to scrap half of your novel. Plus, I had to reimagine my villain, because she started out one way and ended up another…setting a whole different chain of events in motion. And it was too short. And the timing was off.
So now, I try to plan at least a little, especially when it comes to characters. I’m a character first, plot second writer (more on that some other time), so I like to know my characters very well. I also tried out doing a summary of my entire story on notecards, a short scene summary per card. It’s working out so far, but I’ve found if I plan too much, I get a bit bored and feel constricted.
Course, that’s just me. I met a young writer in England who planned and planned and planned…down to what her characters would wear. I have a novel writing book filled with chart after chart to help plan your novel.
If that’s your thing, go for it! Character development charts, story arcs, back stories, outlines, subplots…it’s mind boggling how much planning can go into a novel!
But here’s the thing. Unless you have nailed down what works for you, I encourage you to experiment a bit with your planning (or pantsing).
If you are a planner, don’t get bogged down with planning. If you’ve been ‘planning’ your novel for years, call it what it is: procrastinating! Eventually, it is time to stop planning and start writing. Also, don’t be afraid to chase a rabbit trail for a bit. Just because it isn’t in your outline doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in your novel.
For those of us who get claustrophobic at the thought of diagrams and charts, start small. Maybe just a page summary of your story or a quick list of your main characters and their descriptions, both physical and emotional. If you find yourself constantly getting stuck halfway through the story with no clue what’s next, take a step back and do some charting or summarizing. I often ‘plan’ my stories after they are written just to help me get a clearer idea of there everything is.
Whichever method you choose, I recommend a couple tools:
- Blank calendars. I print out a blank calendar, usually of a month, and fill it out as I go with a quick summary of what happens each day in the story. It helps you see how long characters have been together, what day of the week it is, and how fast paced things are going. In my current novel, the phase of the moon is important, so the calendar is helping me keep track of that as well. Handy things!
- Notecards. I love them. They come in various colors and sizes and are oh so fun to have. Yes, I’m weird. But I often use them to outline scenes. I pick a color for each point of view and write a quick summary, plus any notes to remember (as in, ‘don’t forget she has a dog with her.’ It’s amazing how often I forget stuff like that…). These help me to stay focused on the scene I’m writing and not to follow those rabbit trails too terribly far.
- Personality tests. This is new for me, but I love it. I find the personality that best fits each of my main characters and read up on it, often finding quirks about them I didn’t know. On Jeff Gerke’s recommendation, I use Please Understand Me II, or just an online test. It’s interesting getting inside your character’s head and seeing what makes them tick…or giving them something to make them tick (insert evil laugh here)!
So whether you like to plan or write freestyle, the main point is to write. Don’t get caught up in planning, or lost in unchartered territory. Find what works for you, and get your story down on paper so the rest of us can read it. We are looking forward to it!