Planning a novel is perhaps one of the hardest things. Harder than writing it or editing it, I believe, although neither of those are easy.
I used to 100% be a pantser. I had no patience for planning, especially all those character templates that people fill in with hundreds of questions that are mostly irrelevant. Of course, you need to know your characters inside out, but I don’t see how the identity of their Year 3 teacher has anything to do with their core beliefs and personality. (Unless, of course, your story is about a deranged primary school teacher and her students).
However, I noticed that my ‘pantsing’ was killing my dream of becoming an author. I couldn’t get past Chapter Two because I had no idea where the story was going and all my characters sounded the same. I just had one scene, or one character, or a very very sketchy outline to start a novel with. So I began planning, mainly with this book that I reviewed: Ready, Set, Novel! It provided me with all the questions I needed to ask my characters and my plot, without the silly ones that won’t make my story progress.
So, how exactly do I plan? Usually on my phone. Before I let myself put anything onto Scrivener, I write an outline of that spark of an idea I’ve had in the Notes on my iPhone. Over a little while, I’ll add a few more details that have sprung to mind. I like to mull over an idea now that I’ve realised rushing into it won’t help, but it can be difficult to restrain myself sometimes. And then, when I feel like I have some kind of outline, I take to Scrivener and copy down everything onto a page simply entitled ‘Plan’.
If you don’t have Scrivener, I really recommend it. I know writers like Veronica Roth, author of the successful Divergent series, use Scrivener, and the company actually have a list on their website of all the notable authors who use their software. It’s not too expensive and, once you’ve bought it, you have it for life. It allows you to plan a novel in one place without having ten million Word documents open with different story plans and character profiles.
So, I’ve regurgitated every idea I’ve had. What’s next? I head on over to Pinterest.
That’s a snapshot from my ‘Dystopia & Post Apocalypse’ board, as anyone who knows me or follows this blog will know that it’s my favourite genre. On the side of my blog, you’ll find the link to my Pinterest, but I’ll link it here too. There’s a great little community on there of aspiring authors. I’m definitely a visual learner and photos are where I get a lot of my inspiration. I pin my favourite pictures to my boards and then, from those, I cherry pick the ones that best represent the story I’m creating. From there, I’ll copy them all into my ‘Research’ tab on my Scrivener document.
As you can see, a lot of the files have gibberish names or are labelled as ‘dystopia 1, 2, 3’ etc. even though I might not be writing a dystopia. But having the ability to keep all this visual inspiration in the same place where I’m writing my story is excellent and convenient, especially if the internet has crashed or I’m without it.
Now I’ve got the visual inspiration, I start trawling baby name sites and seriously frighten both my boyfriend and my parents when they see me scrolling through lists of names. I have a bit of a thing for Celtic names and find it easier to pick girl’s names than boy’s. I’ll normally make a shortlist of names and then try them out when I get down to writing, seeing which ones sound best in the mouths of my characters. Sometimes a name will just fit a character; as soon as I see it, I know it’s the one. Other times I spend ages humming and hawing over a name, not really finding anything that fits. If I can’t find the perfect name, I settle on the next best thing and, eventually, get used to it.
Whilst I’m doing this, I’ll start making a bullet-point list of the main plot points. This is where I struggle the most; trying to craft an intricate story. Some days my brain comes up with a great twist, other days I sit there and hammer out clichés, severely hating myself. But that’s a part of writing; thinking that every word you write sucks, and then convincing yourself it’s great. If you don’t think it sucks, then it probably does actually suck. If you think it’s a pile of cow shit, it’s probably the next best thing. Simple. But if I’m stuck for inspiration, I’ll listen to some music that I think fits the mood of my story, or watch a film that has some similarities, or flick through a book that covers some of the same themes.
Once I have the bare bones laid out, and the twists and turns decided, I’ll get to writing. Often these stories never come to fruition, but with each one I hone my planning skills and my prose. The beauty of being an unpublished writer is that, without deadlines, you can spit out story after story after story that never makes it past Chapter Five, but each one is an improvement on the next, and each one you can later return to if you suddenly have an epiphany.
So, I’m asking you, if you write, how do you plan? It’s always interesting to see how others plan, whether they do way more work than you, or if they do nothing. What works for one person may not work for everyone else, but what if they’re doing something you never thought of? Something that could really help? I don’t have a very detailed planning process, but it’s what works for me. Just. So, how do you do it?