My Novel Planning Journey

It’s Preptober! I’m not participating in Nanowrimo, but I figured this post was long overdue anyway and could be relevant to those of you preparing for Nano. If you’re wondering about my previous Nanowrimo experience, I wrote a little piece on the Sophie Melissa Blog. She also asked some other authors for their ideas and advice, so it might be a good place to start your Preptober preparations. Have a read here.

Now, I’m a pantser. Sure, I have a good idea of the ‘that’s when the trouble started’ moment, the ending, certain big events, and character traits. I’ve also put more effort into understanding character motivations since the fabulous Cat Hellisen stressed so heavily that it’s super important to know why characters do certain things. But for me, that’s as far as the planning phase usually goes.

Yes, this means rewrites by the score, because I discover the plot as the story unfolds, and especially through the feedback from alpha and beta readers. Sometimes the brightest ideas come from a reader’s throwaway comment, and this usually means I’ll have to change something.

I have to rethink, revise, and rewrite many plot points – if not the whole novel – way too often, and all of that could be avoided if I wrote with a clear plan. If I know where to go, I wouldn’t follow so many wrong paths to get there – the scenic route, when I could be using the shortcuts tried and tested by so many authors before me. You probably guessed that I used to hate the way I write.

Luckily, someone shared a piece of wisdom with me that changed my life – nobody cares how the book was written, just that it was written. And that the grammar is okay. 🙂

We all have unique journeys. Some authors learn about the characters and plot before they start writing, in the planning phase. I learn as I write. I like to think of it as discovery writing.

Still, in the name of learning new things, I wanted to try planning Book Two and see if it would change my process.

I bought a notebook and some post-it notes, and got cracking. Since a lot of the material for Book Two (BT) used to be the second half of The Physician’s Apprentice (TPA) I already had a pretty good foundation in terms of planning. Many of the plot points were developed, the timeline made sense, and much of the story was already written.

I started by making notes of all of the important feedback from betas, comments from my wonderful editor and sensei, Nerine Dorman, and ideas I’d discovered while writing the last draft of TPA. I also noted which continuity errors I needed to find and destroy, since the plot of TPA had changed from the draft that used to include the material cut for BT. Discovery writing does have its drawbacks, and continuity errors are annoying little gremlins that pop up all the time.

Anyway. All these notes led to ideas for scenes to flesh out the story so far, as well as insight into which scenes were now unusable. Time to cut and paste. 🙂 Just FIY, I see a scene as a passage with a single viewpoint character without any sort of section break, so a scene could be a whole chapter, or a passage between section breaks.

Next, I made a list of scene ideas, including old and new stuff, in no particular order. Then, to figure out where each scene would fit in the timeline, I made flash cards, each with a one or two line sentence about what a particular scene should be about. I placed the scenes in the optimal order – making the living room floor unusable for an afternoon – and grouped them into chapters.

Then came the hard work. With my new storyline in order, I had to flesh out each scene into a paragraph. In this phase, I added little notes to myself about things I’d already begun to learn about BT and its plot. I was stoked to find myself discovery writing while using a different method to write!

From paragraphs, I planned chapters. I took the ideas and notes from the betas, the paragraph I’d written with my own notes, and wrote pages worth of ideas for each chapter. This phase included the actual progression of each scene, ideas for dialogue, where in the timeline this chapter was set, things I had to describe, reminders of the things I had to keep in mind from the last time we saw each character in TPA, and so on.

I worked so hard on this. Wherever I went, the notebook went too, and I made good time. Until one fateful day. Dum dum duuum.

I’d meticulously planned out eight chapters when I realised something wasn’t right. Despite the niggling in the back of my mind, I kept planning well into the teen chapters, until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The plot so far didn’t fit.

So I started again.

Cut many more scenes and added new ones (again on the living room floor). New paragraph-level planning. New full-page planning. And then that didn’t feel right.

I spoke to many writerly friends at this point, and their advice was an overwhelming stop planning and go write. Which I did.

And of course I wrote two and a half chapters, then had a brainwave thanks to my genius alpha reader and cousin extraordinaire, Shants, and now I’m already rewriting. Two. Chapters. In.

But you know what? It’s okay. The planning wasn’t a waste at all. Many problems were sorted and plot holes were plugged before I even wrote the words Chapter One. I learned just the same way as always. One thing must be said though, the very same Shants didn’t get to see my planning as she’d have seen actual chapters, which might have been a bit of a drawback. Her eyes are the first filters for my stories, and because of her, I often pick up on issues much faster than I do when I’m the only one reading the story.

In terms of time, I think the planning and actual writing took up about the same amount of it. I’m a speed writer, always have been, so maybe I’d have finished writing more chapters before I realised they couldn’t be salvaged. IDK.

What I do know is this was a good experience, one I might even attempt again in the future. Hang around, we’ll find out together.



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