“I would be very interested to know how you personally plan a book. I’m writing my first one and started in a very haphazard way. I’m normally quite good at holding information in my head but since I’ve started writing my book discovered I’m not as good as I thought I was. To begin with a wrote a few notes and launched straight in very quickly realizing I need a chapter plan, which I’ve done and revised a lot. By the second chapter I started losing track of my characters so I started writing character notes. To cut a long story short I now have maps, place notes and details of my magic system I’ve produced all these as I have progressed with the book, I’m getting close to 50k words. I now need a timeline as I found myself losing track where everyone is. I can’t help feeling I should have done this before I started writing!”
Good question… and I’m sorry to disappoint, but when I start writing, there is actually very little planning involved. See when I get an idea for a book, I either select character types from a ‘character bank’ I created with several different character personalities, or I make them up on the spot. Then I start writing.
I think you’re putting the cart before the horse a little bit here. There is such a thing as too much planning. If you put all your eggs into the plan basket, you’ll quickly run out of creative eggs.
Put your chapter structure and revisions on the back burner. Leave the plot flaws, misspellings et al for later. Now, you’ve got your story idea? START WRITING!!! Get your ideas down on paper before you do anything else. Write out your story ideas so that you have them etched in stone FIRST. When I first sit down to write, I don’t plan everything out. I don’t even necessarily write my scenes in order. If I have an awesome idea for a climax or an ending, I write those first. If I have a great idea for a romantic encounter, I’ll write that. Feel free to use placeholder character names if you haven’t decided on the characters yet. You can always fill in the blanks and change the names later.
Don’t be concerned with what it looks like or how coherent it is on the first run through. You’re not getting the first draft published. More than likely, you’re going to have at least 2 more drafts (sometimes as much as 6 for me) before you’re done. Once you have your ideas down and you’ve filled in the blanks, then go back and worry about chapter structure and fixing plot holes. Be sure to reread your story a couple of times as making sure the whole thing makes sense should be the priority. See my steps below:
How I write:
So now you’ve got your bare bones down. Your characters have a beginning, climax, and ending. Awesome! You may or may not have loosely decided where chapters go, but that doesn’t matter at this point.
Now add your subplots, character and location descriptions, developments, and character relationships. This is the meat that needs to be added to the bare bones to change it from a draft into an actual story. You’re getting there.
Now start separating the books into chapters and perspective change markers (if you use them). This is where you need to start planning the book structure.
By now you should be on your second or third draft. Be sure to reread your story a couple of times. This is where you fix plot holes and by the third or fourth read-through you should be fixing your run-ons and spelling/grammar errors.
So now you’ve got your story. If you’re trying to write a novel, it should be somewhere in the realm of 80k words (my rule). Anything less is a novella or short story. Now, have someone else read it. In fact, have 2-3 people read it. They’ll each catch plot holes or grammar errors that you may not have.
Once you’ve corrected their mistakes, do one more read through. Polish up anything that you feel is weak and put the final touches on. THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO ADD SCENES OR SUBPLOTS! If you really must, you’re going to need to go through all that proofing again, so make sure your book is completely done before handing it off. At this point, you should only be fixing minor errors and weak points.
And… that’s it. Once the final revisions have been made, you’re done. You’re book should be complete and good to go.
Hope this helps Eric, and feel free to email me if you need me to elaborate on any of these points!
Readers, what do you think? Do you think Eric is planning way too much, too early, or is this a reasonable thing to do early on? Leave a comment below!
Do you have a question about writing, publishing, my stories, etc? Please feel free to post a comment or email me.
I’ll use those comments to select my next blog post.
I have been writing for several years, have 4 published works, experience with publishing and independent work, so I can hopefully be of assistance.
Please note, I only do one of these a day and will do my best to respond to everyone, but it may take some time.
Catch you on the flip side!
Nice advice. I plan a little, write a little then plan some more and write some more. Planning and writing kinda feed off one another for me as long as I don’t write too far a head of my planning and end up changing bug stuff and rewriting half of what I’ve written.
Interesting. Everyone does it differently. Most need to experiment to find what works for them. I start with two pages.
Page one is a character list with placeholder names and info on two lines. Line one is sex, height, weight, eye and hair color, race, ethnicity, religion (if important), etc. Line two is occupation (skills/talents) and the flaw(s) or distinguishing characteristics. For example: Constantine, extra skinny Italian tightrope walker afraid of heights.
One page is enough. I figure if I have more than 15-16 main and supporting characters, I should be writing a Russian novel.
Then, I generally have an idea what the story is about before I begin. I use page two as a reminder. At the top I write BEGIN. A couple of short sentences: Time, place, and story starter. Forget all that background information. Something needs to set things off. At the bottom I write END, and again, a sentence or two tells where I want to end up, even if about one out of ten times I end up somewhere else. That’s okay if it is the best ending.
The bulk of blank page in the middle is for twists, turns, obstacles, troubles, trials, tribulations, life, death, action or activities which is the bulk of any story. Often a phrase will do. Occasionally, just a word reminds me of a whole 20 page scene I need to write. I cross things off as I work through them until the end. It keeps me from staring at a blank sheet wondering what should happen next.
I once got to the end point of internal angst (the big decision) and realized I had not foreshadowed the moment properly. The readers need to see this coming and need to root for the correct decision. I made a note. Maybe a third piece of paper. In the rewrite/review, I adjusted the protagonist’s dialogue, action, and thinking to properly reach the end point.
In this way, I rarely move whole sections around. I divide into chapters later. Sometimes i note the obvious places. If a scene is too long for the short attention and digestion span of the present day readers, I look for a cliffhanging point somewhere in the middle to make a new chapter. Reread, review, and beta-readers are a good things. I’m with you there.
I did not mean to write so much, but I believe hearing or reading about how others approach the writing process can stimulate the thinking. In the end, though, I believe each person needs to figure out and decide what works best for them, and then just write.
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From the comics side:
I’ve found a character and lore bible to be helpful, especially since I need to design characters. However, it’s the bare minimum–personalities, the physical description is handled by the model sheet but I try to have some starting points. And yet I don’t want to get every detail since I want room to play with the character later and flesh them out as i go on, letting the story dictate who they as much as who they are dictates the story. I do start with the story first but I like having a guideline to know whether an existing character fits or I need a new one. This is a new perspective and I’m still working out the kinks but seat of my pants only goes so far before I go all over and yet I want room to be creative later.