For authors or even aspiring authors, planning a book is far from easy. And every writer is unique, going on a different path just like our fingerprints are distinct.
Some writers are pantsters, a phenomenon that involves “flying by the seat of your pants” and allowing the ideas for the book to come to you willy-nilly.
The book is unplanned, but some authors are able to still accomplish a pretty impressive manuscript using this technique.
Other authors are plotters; they plan out the book every step of the way, leaving no stone unturned.
And then are writers like me, who dance between the two extremes. They get random ideas, whereby the story is a complete jumble until it starts to make a sensible timeline.
Nevertheless, a good writer knows there are gaps that need to be filled.
Some are a bit more casual about this than others. Eventually, that plotting or outlining has to happen for the part-pantster, partly organized writer. And if that writer is lucky, he or she will feel fortunate that they bothered to try to fill in the blanks.
This doesn’t negate the need for creativity; of course, it doesn’t. In fact, having a loose outline can relax a writer who feels that control is important, which can allow the characters to come to the surface and tell the writer that the plot element they used might be questionable.
Well, for a writer that has a million story ideas and tons of characters’ voices in his head, plotting can be a godsend.
If you would like to organize your book, here are some possible steps to follow. This is not the only way, though. Isn’t it amazing that the internet abounds with articles designed to help writers? Here are some of my techniques, anyway.
1. Find out which method suits you best.
Are you a pantster? Are you pretty mellow? Do you resist being controlled on all levels?
Do you want the characters to guide you every step of the way, and the ideas to flow randomly?
You’re probably a pantster.
Are you a plotter? Are you a little bit of a control freak? Do you need to know what is going to happen at every moment? Yeah, you may be a plotter.
Or, are you instead a bit of both worlds, and you want to let the ideas flow along, but still want to exercise some control over things? You may enjoy trying both ends of the spectrum.
But, no worries. Even if you don’t know which method works for you right now, you will eventually come to the conclusion about which one you prefer. Maybe it will come in the form of ideas on the page.
Maybe you will rear back at some point during the reading of this article and say, “No, Marie. This is a dictatorship. I refuse to be controlled!” LOL. In any case, these are merely suggestions and you should always try something at least once.
Once you know what method suits you, however, all of your other writing projects will run a little more smoothly. For the purposes of this article, I will assume that you actually want to plot your novel.
2. Decide what stage you’re at.
Did you just start your story idea? Is it in the beginning stages, the seeds barely formed? Or, has it come to fruition in your mind? Do you have a basic notion of how the story will go? A basic timeline, even if it is a small summary? Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.
No matter where you’re at, you have to decide how much work needs to be done on the idea itself. At this point, I do a little brainstorming to see what I can find out about the basic storyline. Logic can help you connect the dots.
Pantsters usually let the storyline play out as they are writing, which works too.
Please keep in mind that nothing in the creative process is permanent. It can always be changed. The further you get along in your project, though, the more likely you’ll have to change things that are interconnected if that happens. Let’s assume you have a basic idea of the plot.
3. Character workups.
I cannot stress how important it is to know your characters inside and out. Knowing their backgrounds and motivations can really prevent a lot of headaches in the creative process.
You probably won’t include everything you learn about your character in the book, but knowing that individual well will help you fill in details that weren’t there before in the text.
It will allow you to flesh those characters out, making them three-dimensional, cause them to come alive on the page.
And what do readers want more out of a character?
One that they can relate with and get invested in, of course. If you don’t have any character worksheets to get started, here is one of my blog posts with the basic worksheet I use.
Have you written any scenes yet?
Have you ventured to put a few words on the page? Some writers start right away because the picture forming in the mind’s eye is too strong to ignore. It is not the end of the world if you write before you’ve even done any heavy plotting.
In fact, you may learn something about your story just by writing a scene. Sometimes those characters lead us in the right direction. Or a piece of dialogue makes you start thinking about a major plot element. Don’t be afraid to try writing first.
No matter if you’re a plotter, semi-plotter or pantster, an outline, even a basic one, can really help you when planning your book.
Pantsters probably won’t do any kind of synopsis until the very end because they don’t know all of the details yet.
However, if you are floundering and you feel like some control is warranted, you’ll want to construct a story outline.
I suggest you do two. Have a basic one at first for when you are starting your story or book. This one is fairly short, anywhere from a paragraph to whatever you like.
As long as you have a basic idea of where the story is going, you’re good. You will add more details as you go along.
Depending on the method you use, you may require a little more stability. Only then should you break down and do a full outline of the entire book. Let your characters and logic guide you to the eventual outcome. But, don’t close your mind to making changes either. I can’t count how many times a character led me to a better eventuality in the manuscript. That leads me to my next point.
Trust your instincts as a writer, but trust your characters as well.
Sometimes they tell us things we might not have known, something absolutely necessary to the plot. It may not be huge; however, it could be.
It may affect your story in a big way, and it would be silly to ignore the pull of creativity just because you want to control the entire thing.
Authors often joke about how characters are really running the show, and that isn’t too far from the truth.
Plotting a book takes a lot of work, but listening to your characters is just smart and will save you trouble in the long run.
You have two options here and some writers may do a little of both. You can do your research before you start writing, or you can research your topics during the writing of the story.
I have done it both ways, even used research as a tool to jumpstart creativity after a brief bout of writer’s block.
The important thing is that you research everything you can about the subjects you’re writing about.
Definitely narrow them down to relevant topics, but don’t avoid your research.
You wouldn’t write a book about dogs, and then not learn everything you can about dogs, would you? Of course not. You don’t want to sound silly.
Don’t lose your credibility by avoiding research. Doing research for your book will not only help you learn more about the topic, but you may also enjoy it along the way. Your readers will thank you for it as well; you can avoid those bad reviews that talk about poor research.
Know your subject and know it well. And when you’re at a loss, remember that you have some creative license. If you’re writing fiction, you can be creative, but you also want it to be believable. Here are some tips, an article I wrote on how to do good research.
8. Post-its or notes
It is okay to make notes to yourself about what to tackle next in your book. In fact, I encourage it. Maybe you’re up with technology and you want to send calendar reminders to yourself.
Perhaps at a specific time, you will send a reminder to yourself to go write, or to research a specific topic. If this keeps you on the writing roller coaster, then do it.
9. Fill in the details
I put this one in for the half pantsters, half plotters. It can also help any other kind of writer. At some point in your manuscript, you are going to stall out during the writing. You may have a question like, “Oh, man. What do they call that?”
Unless knowing the answer defines your entire story, you don’t have to stop writing. Simply make a notation in the text, and then move on.
When you do your reread, which I hope you do about a million times before you ever send the manuscript off (LOL), you’ll find that notation and you can go on a hunt for the answer.
Really, what do I mean by “fill in the details”?
Half pantsers, half plotters have a tendency to write as much as possible until an outline becomes like a lifeline. That major outline calls and then suddenly the writer is faced with more work. They have to fill in the blanks by writing even more.
I always come across things I should research or describe better at that point. I have the choice to do it then or make a notation as aforementioned and do it later when I’m not in the midst of a scene. Remember that when you edit, that serves as a way to tighten everything up.
10. What’s next?
That depends on where you are at in your writing. Let’s say you’ve plotted and researched everything you absolutely can, and you have written nothing.
Well, that’s not true.
The fact that you got that far is something. Now begins the real work, the writing. Just jump into it. And if that seems daunting, don’t be afraid to start in the middle if necessary.
It doesn’t matter where you start or even if your scenes come out of order, as long you try. Soon enough, you’ll have a finished product on your hands and then you’ll only have to worry about editing.
By now, you should have a pretty good idea about your story and you may even have written some scenes. You may even know what kind of writer you are (pantster, plotter or both).
The more you learn about yourself as a writer, the more comfortable you will become with your little quirks. Some authors plot in the shower; some need music to write by. Some have lucky shirts or need a special drink to get their creative juices flowing.
The list goes on. We all have our eccentricities, and it’s natural to sprinkle them into our work.
“Be yourself, and never forget why you’re doing this.”
Why are we?
Oh, yes! Because we love writing, because writing is one of those things we need to do. It’s an urgent fire inside of us, and we cannot imagine doing anything else in life. When you feel lost, always come back to this.
Writing is work, and the hard parts can be so daunting that we tend to wonder why we bother. Always come back to the reason you began; it will save you every time.
And I can’t stress how much the freedom of being immersed in a scene, with the story flowing beneath your hands and in your mind, can really cement that fact.
Enjoy the journey and if I’ve distracted you too much, get back to writing your book!
Article Written by Marie Lavender
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