15 September 2014

Fail to Plan, Plan to Flail

If there’s one thing that can motivate me into getting my planning head on, it’s the bribe of a brand new notebook to scribble all over. I am a stationary junkie with a prescription for clean white pages.


Smell that? That’s the smell of SUCCESS! (And cold hard notebook paper)

Planning is always something that’s kind of stumped me when it comes to storywriting. When I was younger I was very much a seat-of-my-pants kind of writer; picking up a pencil and letting it dictate the plot as I went. This tends not to be too much of a problem when writing short stories or flash fiction. You need to know where your story is going of course, but with fewer words the idea can blossom into a plot without any heavy duty planning involved. Once the story is committed to paper (or screen), second drafts and edits shape it into something structured.

For something novel length, however? You need more than just a few scribbled notes and good intentions.

I’ve been searching around for methods of novel planning/outlining as we approach November, known to some as National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. I really want to make it work this year and to do so, I know I need to have a good solid plan and a strict map of where the story is going in order to succeed [NOTE: I did say that I need a solid plan in order for me to succeed. If you don’t work this way, that’s not wrong and I’m not saying it is. Thank you *backs away*]. I don’t want to write myself off a precipice and be left floating around in storyspace, crying ‘writer’s block’ and giving up. I’ve never found one set planning style that suits me but I’m beginning to cobble something together made of scraps from various planning methods. 

I have, of course, by getting what I consider to be the necessary supplies; a big fat notebook and a pack of highlighters. In the past I have tried to plan on my computer, and as much as I find it an easier way to actually write the story, ideas flow more freely on paper for me. So far I’ve got a (very) basic outline with the peaks and dips of action/drama, broken down into eight main story sections and then the classic Beginning, Middle and End. I’ll expand on those sections further into planning of course, but for now it’s nice to have a solid visual of the path my novel will take. A very simple thing, but really quite encouraging.

New favourite place to write: in front of my open balcony doors
 I’m a big fan of character maps and questionnaires when developing the people that will populate my story, so that’s where I went next. Baby steps, people. I find that more ideas about the character I’m creating come to me whilst making these, whether this is a quirk of their character or something they’re always wearing. Small details like that anchor a character to the page for me. It might not add huge amounts to the plot but it can make the character feel more real, and that’s worth half a line in their description to me.

My next step will be to find some flashcards and write different events/scenes on each piece, then spread them out all over my living room floor (living alone is awesome). Like the visual representation of the story’s peaks of drama, I feel like it will help me to be able to physically see the layout of my story. Having things on flashcards means I’ll be able to swap, change, add, fold, concertina… and so on, until I’m either happy with the structure or I’ve mastered the art of origami. Either would be cool, though a working novel outline would be preferable.

I’m not quite done on this subject of planning, as I’d like to keep track of the different methods I’m using to help myself (and any other flailing story planners) in the future. To anyone else out there sketching out the map of your novel, what methods are you using? Are there any Holy Grail plans out there? Any that have crashed and burned in a dramatic ball of frustration and flames? Let me know!

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