To plan the words – or to let them dictate?

This weekend started with an impossible goal. Intending to get everything finished for The Poisoned Well, I decided, yesterday, that I was going to write 20,000 words in two days. No big deal. Then reality dropped by and this obviously has not happened. I’ll Detonate that target now and gladly; ka-boom! Although I have made a respectable amount of progress and I’m pleased with the development of the story. I just about hit my target for today, when a writing friend from across the globe in New Zealand explained they were planning to write 15,000 words. Naturally, a challenge was set and the race is on. My brain is already a little tired today, so there was no way I was going to reach 15,000 words! However, Hollie has managed an amazing 4,000 and I’m 1000 words up on my target and ready for the week ahead.

Now, onto the serious blogging.

I’ve started to do a series of posts about writing a novel, so here is part two: Planning

To plan, or not to plan?

Now, having attempted novel writing myself, and finishing the first manuscript: Burning Embers, I feel I have a good idea of how to get this ball rolling. I’ve also be reading up on other writers and their techniques to what can feel like a long slog. The conclusion, is that like anything, there are several different ways to plan a novel.

1: Using a program to write. I’ve never done this, but I know a lot of people swear by it. There are a lot of free programs, and paid ones out there. They seem like a useful place to store information, write character sheets and keep motivating. Such as at: Bibisco

One thing that strikes me about this kind of software, is how easy it is to plan to an exacting detail. You can set how many chapters, what will happen in each one, their intended word count and then map the arc of your book in a diagram.

Pro: You’re able to set clear targets and goals. You’ll also be super organised!

Cons: Does it allow the same flexibility? If you’re going to go over your word count for that chapter, will it feel like a bonus, or a negative thing? Knowing myself, I think I’d have too much fun setting up the minutia and then not get as much writing done. It’s hard enough with facebook, and reading daily prompts, and twitter to get a clear head and just get the words down.

Then there is perhaps the opposite to using a program to plan out the individual steps.

2. No planning. When the LOTR extended box-sets were released, I was addicted. I probably know the words of every single interview, better than I know the films. Viggo…if we tip over…save yourself…

One thing that always remained clear in my memory though, was the discussion about how Tolkien approached the LOTR. After the success of the Hobbit, he set out to write the sequel. Now, there’s a lot of complaints about G.R.R.Martin finishing a Song of Ice and Fire, yet it took Tolkien 12, (17 according to some sources) years to write the Lord of the Rings! 12 YEARS! Now, the image that stuck with me, was the way they described Tolkien’s approach. He sat down and he started to write.  He didn’t know where the story was going, and eventually he got stuck, scrapped it all and started again – from the beginning. This time, he got a little further, until he reached a point where he couldn’t continue – scrapped it all, and started again.

This is in the day before the computer! It was described as the waves rushing up the beach, every time they got a little further until we had the Lord of the Rings that we know and love. It sounds exhausting.

I like to have flexibility when I write, I like to be able to let my characters breathe and develop their own voices and ideas. This is possibly because I am rubbish at Character sheets. In the role play community people ask me – so how much planning did you put into this character and their arc and I get all embarrassed and mumble…I wrote the bare minimum so you would let me write on your site… however, I think it’s a good idea to have some vague concepts in mind and at least a direction.

Now, I was always going to advocate for option three – the middle ground. Option 1 is a planned hike with your day sketched out to the minute. You have everything in your bag, that you might possibly ever need. A strict schedule to keep you moving, and gps on your phone so you don’t stray from the path. Option 2 seems like setting out on a journey, with just your boots on your feet and wondering where you’ll end up. There’s a certain amount of mystery and allure to this, I must admit. However, Option 3 – you’re prepared for a hike. You have essential supplies to get you through and regular way points to tick off at each chapter.

3. Middle-Ground Planning

When I start off on a journey, ready to write a longer piece of fiction. I like to have a clear idea of a few things. They’re listed in Getting Started as well.

  1. Approximate word count. How big of a beast is this going to be?
  2. Audience? Adult, Children, YA? (Inevitably the answer for me is YA)
  3. What do I plan to do with the project when it’s done? My current intention to publish The Poisoned Well on Wattpad has meant that I’m aiming for chapters with around 2000 words in each.
  4. What is the destination – roughly? I love to have a good start, but then I like to now where I’m aiming for. As a few chapters get ticked off, then a plan starts to form, of how I’m going to get there. I can draw a few lines on the map at least. Then a few more chapters down, and I work out how I’m going to mess with the straight lines, and make a more interesting narrative.

I like to think of this as a middle-ground plan, a rough guide. It’s not without its downside. I could probably do with being more focused at the beginning of a project and do some world-building first. It’s hard to build a map around a narrative, and feels less realistic. Then you realise that you characters have been walking in the wrong direction, and it’s edit the map, or edit the text…I could probably take a bit more from planning the tiny details, but then I could probably loosen up a little more as well.

Let me know how it goes, or if you use a different programme for writing. I’d be interested to give one a go on another project.

Happy Writing

Fibi