Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My plotting process

Today I thought I would share with you my process to writing a book.  This came about thanks to my last blog post, when I talked about how I'm an extensive planner.  It also came about because the only other thing I want to remotely talk about is basically me complaining, and I figure you all have heard enough of that.  So, planning it is.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm sure.  I actually spend longer planning a novel than I do on the writing.    During nano especially.  I will plan a novel for an entire month, then write it in ten days.

My planning process is when I get to know my characters.  When I figure out the story.  When I discover all of those things that some authors don't discover until they're well into their novel.

First I start with some brainstorming.  This may seem like an obvious step to you, but it's really not.  In fact, when I was in high school I can actually remember losing marks because I refused to do any of the brainstorming.  I thought it was dumb.  My ideas just came to me as a wrote, and there was nothing wrong with that.  Now I love brainstorming.  I find out so much stuff just by writing down whatever I might be currently thinking about in regards to that novel.  Thoughts occur to me just as I'm writing random things down.  I brainstorm a good 40% of the month that I tend to spend on planning.  That's because brainstorming is a great time to get to know the characters a little better, find out some back story.  It's also a great time to rough out a quick sketch of what the plot might actually look like.  For anyone who hasn't planned before but wants to start, if you do nothing else, brainstorm.  It will get you so much further than you thought possible.

Also during the brainstorming process is when I do any research that needs to be done.  On the novel I'm currently working on, that took me to all sorts of places.  Curling and how to play it (which came about largely to me being distracted by a curling game, even though I've never cared about it before.  Then a tiny voice in the back of my head piped in that she loved it...thanks Jayne...) Also I did some research on werewolf lore.  Not that I really stuck to any of it.  When it comes to supernatural elements, I tend to take some creative liberties.  I picked the things I liked from everything I read and stuck it in.  I may have also done research on other kinds of supernatural beings, even though none of that comes into play in the first book.

Sometime near the end of the brainstorming (usually when I've come to a point where I'm starting to feel like I need to name some of these characters that are starting to pile up, or even just keep track of them a little bit) I start a cast list.  This doesn't necessarily mean these are my 'main characters'.  In fact, I generally have far more background characters than anything else.  On my current cast list, in fact, more than half are characters that are: 1) Already dead, but I needed to know their names.  2) Don't appear until book 2 or 3. 3) Were in somebody's past and may eventually resurface, but for now all that matters is the role they played before.  I pretty much write down every character who has the potential of even being mentioned in the book.  I find it easier to keep track of them that way.

Next come the character bibles.  Although I do love the character bibles because of the insight they bring me into the character, sometimes I find it hard to get through this step.  I find reasons to not do some, and I end up doing far less than I probably should.  Character bibles, though, are very helpful in things like giving my characters an appearance, and keeping it consistent throughout the entire novel.  Also it helps to clearly plan out the motivations of my characters, so that when I get to creating an actual plot, they're not acting completely different than they should be.  I usually print these off and keep them in a folder with any maps or floor plans I've created (with help from the amazingly talented Eric Satchwill).  I generally end up referring back to this folder many times in the writing process, so once I actually get through them, I never regret it.

Finally come the time for me to write my plot.  I use the writing software Scrivener, and I adore it.  Using that program I'm able to set up a different folder for each chapter, and even add multiple scenes to each folder.  (When I'm done writing I can then compile the project, and it all shows up within one's pretty fantastic).  While Scrivener can also help you with all of you planning, including the brainstorming, I've only ever used it for the plot portion.  Still, I love that I can go into the each chapter and write what each scene is about.  I never write huge amounts because, let's face it, the story is probably going to change somewhat before I get there.  But I do write something in every single scene before I start the novel itself.

Well, there you have it.  After all of that a month has generally gone by, and I'm getting ready to actually write the novel.  I have a good idea of what's going on, and I'm not worried that I'm going to get halfway through and have to make some story changing decision that isn't going to go over well.  (I may also be massively indecisive...)

Now, I'm not saying that everyone should plan the exact same way as me.  Everyone plans differently, I totally get that.  I'm not even saying that everyone should plan their novel.  I totally get that everyone approaches their books differently.  This is just what I need to do in order to feel comfortable and familiar enough with the story and characters in order to write the novel.  Like I said before, if you take anything from this, I'm hoping it's the brainstorming section.  I sincerely believe that brainstorming can improve your story more than you would think possible.

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