Because I received a few questions about the very first steps to planning a book, I thought I’d blog on it, even though it’s a similar subject to the last post.
What is a Plan?
A plan is anything you want it to be.
For some people it’s finely and fully structured. They begin with a blurb, expand it to an outline of several pages, divide it into chapters, and when they begin to write they know exactly where they’re going.
Others devise a kind of flow chart a-z arrangement of the story on a large piece of paper.
Some like to write key points on cards and then they can shuffle the cards around to study under what arrangement the story makes the most sense and has the most impact.
I prefer to study character, and let each character tell me their story. I have a starting point and a rough idea where their story might go. But that often changes. I take a large piece of paper, write down my starting point and then ask that character a series of questions that begin, ‘What if?’ It’s also very useful if you can give your major character/s a ‘quest’. This may be something particular and purposeful, to discover what happened to the character’s missing husband, for example. But often is more general, such as to recover from a bereavement or get away from a failed love affair.
Where do I Start with My Plan?
A good start to your novel is to ‘let it brew’. Make notes about characters as they occur to you, let them inhabit your mind, and write down the things you see your characters doing/saying/believing/enjoying/hating/wanting/remembering. Some people find it helpful to make these notes in the first person, taking the role of each character in turn. You’re not overly concerned with plot at this stage, just getting to know your characters well enough so that their actions will suggest the story. It’s useful to remember that a character’s past can suggest their future.
So give your characters a past! It’s not enough to know that your central character is a divorced man of 35 – you need to know who he was married to, where they met, how happy the marriage was and what ended it. Was it his foul temper, was it her nymphomania? If you decide he’s going to meet somebody new this history will be factors in how he will act and react as he travels through your book.
A few early decisions might save you a lot of rewriting and head scratching later on:
– Viewpoint and viewpoint characters
– Central characters
– Time structure
– A point to begin your novel – try to think drama, think change, think impact, think about hooking your reader in and making them reluctant to put down the book.
However … some writers never plan! They feel hamstrung by a plan and bored by knowing the story. Planning may not work for you, either, but before you decide that, I strongly suggest you try it! A good plan can mean a good structure and good structure can prevent your novel from being loose and padded. If you know where your book is going it helps to keep the story moving forward.
And, also, the RNA Lunch
I attended the Romantic Novel of the Year Award on Tuesday. You can see me here with Christina Courtenay, also of the Choc Lit selection box. And you can read her full report at the Choc Lit Author Blog.