Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

How to write a novel: 2 The Plan

Plans for The Syndrome Diaries

To plan or not to plan? Some writers like to have a detailed road-map while others prefer to wing it. As you can see from the picture on the left, which has various tables and notes I used in the early stages of The Syndrome Diaries, I’m a planner.

I usually plan on several levels before I start writing:

Overview: roughly a third of the way through the book, something significant will happen that really sets the story moving forwards. Roughly two thirds of the way through the book, there’ll be a second major incident that drives the story towards its conclusion. I need to know what these events are so that I can set them up.

Wordage: all my first drafts that I’ve completed have been done with NaNoWriMo, so the next level of planning divides up my 50,000 word target, adding some more detail in terms of scenes and events that need to take place. (NB: this is the first draft: the final version of The Syndrome Diaries is around 95,000 words. Forthcoming blogs on the rewriting process will help to explain why!)

Details that I need to remember: characters’ surnames, timelines to make sure events make chronological sense (that’s the long, wiggly line on the top piece of paper in the picture) and anything that I’m likely to forget. Sometimes I fill in character sheets; I’ve got a full set for the novel I’m about to start work on (drafted 2009), but didn’t use them for The Syndrome Diaries.

Once I start writing, plans will be ignored, rehashed and turned upside-down. My characters will begin to take on a life of their own at between 20,000 and 30,000 words and refuse to do what I’d had in mind for them. But at the outset, I find I can write better if I have some idea of where I might be heading. In the next blog, I’ll tell you more about how I write first drafts.

Do you plan or do you dive in and see where the writing takes you? 

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6 thoughts on “How to write a novel: 2 The Plan

  1. Bit of both. Lots of thinking, procrastination really, followed by notes on bits of paper and post-its and in my innumerable notebooks. Filing bits of rubbish, tickets, maps.
    Then character studies maybe. Or a letter from one of them to me. Maybe expressing the villain’s point of view. Then a couple of basic ideas are explored.
    Then a plunge into the precipice. A ‘blurt’ if you will.
    Have tried a proper synopsis, a chapter by chapter plan, but I don’t like knowing the exact plot. Have also tried writing notes on cards and swapping them around, which did work better. But I found I could make this process go on forever!
    My way makes for a lot of editing though. No easy answer.

  2. I like the idea of writing a letter from a character to yourself – that’s not something I’ve done much, and sometimes I need to develop a stronger voice for a character. Maybe that’s a way of doing it.

  3. beatbox32 on said:

    I’ve tried both plotting and pantsing and all the bits in between. I’m still trying to find what works best for me as I have yet to finish anything either way. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your methods! Looking forward to your articles on rewriting.

  4. Brandon Sanderson (fantasy writer) has talked about these modes before. He calls them discovery writing (flying by the seat of your pants to see what happens) and outline writing (creating an outline or guideline before you write). There’s no wrong or write answer, since we’re all different.

    I’m definitely more outline, but sometimes I go discovery mode. I think it’s good to be a little bit of both. There’s nothing wrong with knowing where you’re going, but there’s also nothing wrong with letting the story lead you away from the outline from time to time.

    And I know what you mean about characters taking on a life of their own. I’ve written scenes, determined to stick to the outline only to realize the characters weren’t going to comply and I had to rewrite to let them lead the story where they will. All part of the fun of unveiling the story I guess. Great post!

  5. I’ve learned to plan first after having to do some major revisions on my first novel. I don’t know if you use Scrivener, but this makes the process much easier. Outlines, character summaries, scene descriptions–all in one easily accessible spot to be compared and contrasted to each other.

  6. I am a pantser by nature, but I am highly aware of the drawbacks of such a loosey-goosey method. I’m trying to be better at outlining and planning future work.

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