So, for my first weekly blog post, I’ll begin the same way all great stories do; with the planning stage.
In today’s post, I’ll be highlighting the methods I use to plan, write, and finally edit my works. Whilst these methods can be applied a story of to any kind, I use it mostly for novels and novellas longer than 20,000 words.
First and foremost, once I’ve settled on an idea I will delegate a notebook to its planning. In this notebook I’ll brainstorm everything from the magic system to the local wildlife of the world. It is also helpful to have an idea of your characters or at the very least, know what it is they are working towards this may very well be different by the end of the book!) The characters are usually the first thing I think about in relation to a new project, but that’s not always the case. I may also briefly describe specific story elements and come up with a rough overview of where I want the book to go. This stage of planning never really ends; if I ever have an idea or brainwave away from the computer, even during the first draft, I’ll go back to the notebook and later on add it to my plan! Things in the notebook can be messy and out of order, things may conflict… And that’s okay!
I will then create a new document, and type up everything from notebook to digital, revising as I go. If I find things that don’t make sense, now is the time to revise them, shuffling it all into different sections for worldbuilding, magic or biology. Here is when I revise a full overview of the story, beginning to end. It’s also good to write down a list of each of the characters (even support characters) you intend to feature in your story, but they don’t need to be fleshed out yet. It can be as simple as “shopkeeper 1- he helps the main character choose an engagement ring” – they don’t even need names yet, except for the main characters. As a rule, though, if they have dialogue or impact the main character in some way, I’ll include them here. This way, if I’m looking for a recurring side character so that things feel less random, I have a few to pick and choose from.
Once I have a rough overview of my world, characters, and story beginning to end, I will finally begin writing. To me, the first draft is just another stage of planning. At the beginning of each session I make a checklist of things to include in the next scene or chapter, and write to that.
Over the course of writing the first draft, things will change; that background shopkeeper might end up with an arc of his own, the order of scenes might switch. All planning done up to this point is fluid, and I adjust the first draft accordingly. I might even realise that a secondary character would do better with a scene or two from their perspective. If I figure out snippets of foreshadowing that hint to a twist that you’ve just reached, I’ll simply go back and add it in. The most important thing to remember is to be open to change. Nothing should be set in stone, and brainwaves will hit when I least expect them.
It is very, very important to remember that the first draft will be a mess! There may be times I hate writing it, and days that I think it would be better off moving on to something else. My aim is always to finish it anyway, and don’t fret; I just remind myself that the editing is where the magic happens, where meticulous planning comes together and what was once a jumble of puzzle pieces finally shows the full image.
When that happens, it’s all worth it.
I know that many authors create timelines for all their characters and mark visually when they intersect, whilst others use diagrams, graphs, and brainstorming to help things along. Many people find great enjoyment in having visual cues to refer to, art and symbols and maps as well as synopses. Sadly, this style of planning has never worked for me! That being said, there is no right way when it comes to planning, and my works of fiction tend to be fairly relaxed when it comes to the story and setting, with fewer characters and often large and hostile worlds. I place my focus primarily on the characters, their end goals and their relationships to each other and the world. With a larger cast of characters, my method may not work at all. But the import thing is that it works for me.
Let me know in the comments below if this has been helpful, and see you all next week!