HOW TO WRITE WITH A PLAN
When creating a writing process that works for you, you have two choices (generally speaking): you can plan your work from start to finish, or you can write from the hip. I believe that both processes are valid, and I’ll tell you about my experience with each.
I chose to plan the entire second book of the The Pioneers.
And here’s what I did.
I took each of my five main characters, Caleb, Sarai, Shauna, Rian, and Gardiv, and then I mapped out character arcs for each of them.
What is a character arc? Well, simply put: it is the path that your characters take – both emotionally and physically.
For Caleb, let’s say, I knew that I wanted him to have his newfound success to go to his head. He’d been a successful Naturalist, and when he’d lost it all, he felt weak and hopeless. This was his motivation.
Afterwards, I needed to establish key things in his path that would propel him to that motivation, so I created obstacles along the way, feeding the pride within him.
That’s the basis of it. I set up an excel spreadsheet, believe it or not (if you know me, you know that I hate admin). But I set it up nonetheless.
On the spreadsheet was Caleb’s name. I had his major arcs on the sheet. There was his promotion, his success, his failure, and then his revelation.
Within his promotion column, I labeled different scenes. Caleb gets the approval of his peers. Caleb goes to the caves to find the mysterious emblems. Caleb brings the emblems to his people. Caleb does this and Caleb does that.
To the right of those labels, I had detailed descriptions of those scenes – a few sentences though.
I did this process with each of the main characters until I was able to map our arcs for each of my characters including locations and times of when such events occurred.
So to keep it simple, here’s the process I used.
1. Select main characters.
2. Figure out their arcs.
3. Create a spreadsheet.
4. Label columns with the arcs.
5. List scenes pertaining to that arc.
6. To the right of each list item, create a column and add a description of that scene.
7. Write the novel.
The advantage of writing with a plan are great! You really get a chance to see the skeleton of your novel before you begin any real groundwork.
You are also forced to stay on track as you write, limiting yourself to your scenes and what you have designed so that you don’t go on some tangent that’ll end up being more work to get rid of during the editing process.
You also have the advantage of accentuating your characters’ key emotions at certain pivotal points in the story so that the outcome can be more rewarding for the reader. What I mean is that if you know a peripheral character is going to die, you have the advantage of hinting at such an event early on and even creating specific scenes that make the reader have a greater affinity for the character.
You lose a lot of fluidity if you adhere strictly to what you’ve planned. It’s almost as if your creativity is limited to the plan that you’ve created.
Many times there is a strain not to deviate from the planning, believing that the plan is supreme, and this can cause forced plot points and shaky conflicts.
This is of course an overview with gross generalizations, but these are all things to consider.
We will look at writing from the hip next time. What are your thoughts?
I’ve tried both approaches and have decided I’m a fluttermole, as my WP friend Michelle Barber calls it. I “flutter” like a butterfly from project to project, shooting mostly from the hip within each, but with a certain amount of “mole” element thrown in. The Mole digs himself in, does all the planning, spends oodles of time on research, later spring cleans his house and throws out all those unwanted plot lines and character developments that don’t really add to the story, then Moly starts writing. Now I tend to map out the entire plot in bullet points, do the same for sub-plots and prepare a “main suspects” index, where I list all my main characters’ attributes and characteristics. This helps me stay on track – and as I’m hopeless remembering names, it prompts me ever so often to check that protagonist “Peter” hasn’t suddenly changed to “Troy” in chapter 8. Since I’m one of those irritating people who always know the exact opening paragraph and the words the story is going to end on right from the start, I just “draw a line” between the bullet points. Aren’t us writers fascinating critters?
Love the new theme for your blog BTW!
I appreciate your response as well as your fluttermoling! That’s an interesting concept, and as the commercials say: “It’s not weird if it works” haha.
But you’re right, figuring out where your characters are going and what their attributes are and every detail about them makes for a fuller quest as the story goes forward. I found myself getting into trouble because I don’t typically like to plan. I’m more of a “from the hip” kinda’ person, which I’ll write about in my next post.
And thanks so much for the compliment on my blog. I was tinkering around with it last week and finally felt something that I really liked.
I usually start with a plan and end up shooting from the hip in the end. Come to think of it, that’s the way I am with cooking too – I start off with a recipe and usually add in a little of this and a little of that until the recipe is just an outline. Hmmm, good thing I’m not writing a cookbook. 😛
You know what: I’m that was with cooking too. Haha I never thought of it like that, but it’s true. And I’d hate to read a cookbook that’s written by me 😄
I always plan but somewhere down the line I get lazy and stop writing. Thanks for the tips.