This week I want to give you a brief overview of what my novel’s planning phase looks like. As always, this is simply my take on the planning phase of novel writing. To clarify, when I say planning phase, I am referring to the work that I need to do prior to beginning the first draft of a novel. The novel I am currently working on is a middle-grade fantasy, so much of my planning is tailored to that genre. However, this process can be adapted for many types of writing. Overall, my planning phase consists of gathering all of the information that I need about my story in order to tell it. As I mentioned, the following is meant to be a high-level look at what goes into this first phase of the writing process.
Step 1: The Thought Dump
This is the earliest part of my planning phase. Essentially, it consists of a blank sheet of paper, a pen, and a little bit of time. What I do is simply ramble off on the page, in no particular order, any idea I’ve had for the story. This could be a vast number of things including plot points, character names, bits of dialogue, a setting, anything that I think could be useful to the story and may find a place in its pages. The goal is to get onto paper exactly what I’m thinking before it’s gone. For me, when I first have an idea for a story, I tend to have a ton of little, disconnected details that go with it. Many of these details, if not written down, are easily forgotten. In addition, this list is a great thing to keep on hand while you continue on through the writing process because it can serve as a sort of bank to dip into when you are lacking ideas and inspiration further along. I tend to keep this list and add to it anytime another tidbit enters my mind.
Step 2: World Building
This step is especially important when you are working with an entirely fictional world, as fantasy often does. Not only do you need to develop the physical layout of the setting and understand the details relating to how it looks, but it is also important to nail down the mechanics of the world. This includes things like the ways magic and technology function within the society, the history of the world and how it’s been recorded, rituals that this civilization may take part in, etc. All of this is done with the purpose of setting up the parameters in which your characters can act. One of the best pieces of world building advice is one that I’ve adopted from one of the literary universe’s world building masters, Mrs. J.K Rowling, and that is, knowing what your characters can’t do, is often more important than knowing what they can do. This is the essence of the world building task.
Step 3: Character Building
Your characters are arguably the most important part of your story; if your characters aren’t believable and relatable, no one will care what you have to say. Each character in your story should take on a life of their own. This means you need to know what their personal history is, their socioeconomic status, their likes and dislikes, and perhaps most significant, what motivates them. It is also going to be helpful to know how their motives change throughout the story. This is what drives your plot and keeps them acting. Also, there may be parts of the characters that are specific to your story. For example, in my novel, there is a number of different types of magical categories that a character could fall into, and these categories will not directly correspond to any other stories. Why? Because I invented them. This may happen with your story too. If you have specific things about your characters that only pertain to the world you’ve built, make sure you understand that aspect of them and how that affects the way they fit into the larger picture.
Step 4: Plotting
I am hesitant to put plotting as its own step in this particular phase because, for me, it verges on being its own separate phase in the writing process. In-depth plotting is a MUST when it comes to how I write. I find it so incredibly important for the cohesion of my story and for my productivity to know exactly where the story is headed and how it’s going to get there. This is done through a series of mini-steps. First, I do a basic outline of the main plot points in the story. Since I tend to write using a literary three act structure, this is usually all of the plot points that move me from one act to the next. After that, I assign each of these transitional points to a chapter. Next, I fill in what needs to be accomplished in each chapter to get my characters from point A to point B. This takes the form of a very vague description of what needs to happen, NOT how it is going to happen. It is only after I have completed the what that I move onto the how. This is where specific scenes begin to form and I can see more exactly the events of the story. Once I have each scene fleshed out, I assign them to a notecard. These notecards serve as a checklist for when I’m writing. I am able to go through them and separate out which scenes I’ve written and which I haven’t. Furthermore, it provides a place for notes during the writing process, so that I can remember all of them during revisions. After this, I outline the physical actions of each scene, which you can read about in a previous post that I will link to here. This last portion is often done in conjunction with the writing process in that I create these outlines prior to my writing of that specific scene. I tend to do this so that it is fresh in my mind when I go to write it.
Step 5: Writing a Tagline and Synopsis
The final step of my planning is centered on synthesizing a concise summary of my plot. I find that once I can break down the essential plot into a brief paragraph (synopsis) and then down to a single sentence (tagline), I have a strong enough understanding of the story to begin writing it.
I hope I was able to give you a snapshot of how I plan, and that you might able be to use this to start thinking about how to plan your next project.