Mar 4, 2012

✏ ON WRITING: Planning For Plots

Below are excerpts from NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! By Chris Baty (Founder of National Novel Writing Month).

I've been carrying this book around with me for a week, reading it between classes, on the bus ride home, or during lunchtime and it has some pretty great information that I thought I'd share. Something that particularily interested me was the chapter on novel planning. The particular situation presented in the chapter has happened to so many of us that I'm starting to wonder how planners are able to write and stick so closely to their outlines without it getting messy. I wish that I could be a planner, but most of the time my planning is minimal at best. I go into writing a new piece with limited knowledge of three things: Characters, Plot, and Setting. Then I write and let the story fill in the extra details itself. The only time I really get into outlining is during the re-write or revisions when I find it to be the most useful. In the excerpt below if you see the word Me in paretheses then that's a thought I had while reading.

~ ~ ~

Pages 82, 83, 84 (this is a really small book)

After months of preparation, Jennifer McCreedy had an absolutely clear vision of how her intricate fantasy novel would unfurl.

"I churned out character biographies, world maps, and language keys," says the twenty-year-old one-time NaNoWriMo winner from Detroit. "I had developing culture, societies, religions, hierarchical class stuctures--even regional clothing, genetic wuirks, weapons, and customs."

When the month began, Jennifer dovein with all her notes at her side--and promptly stopped writing.

"I did so much development work on the novel that when it came time to actually write, I was horrified at what I was coming up with. I'd comitted too much to making a complete world for my novel just to watch it crumble under the needs of a November 30th deadline. So I set it aside for future work and started completely anew."

Jennifer's experience echoes the dismay of thousands of National Novel Writing Month participants who have brought months or years of novel ideas to the writing table and ended up finding them to be more of a hindrance than a help in getting something written.

It may be counterintuitive, but when it comes to novel writing, more preparation does not necessarily produce a better book. In fact, too much preparation has a way of stopping novel writing altogether.

...Overplanning, [which] is deadly for three reasons:

1) If you give yourself too much time to plan, you might end up stumbling across a brillant concept foryour novel. And the last thing you want heading into your noveling month is a brillant concept. Every month. I get emails from people jubilanly informing me that they're dropping out of the contest because they've found a story they love, and they want to workon it slowly enough to do it justice.

When I check in with these people six months later, they've ineviable stopped working on thebook entirely. Why? Because they've become afraid of ruining thier book by actually writing it. ( Me: OMG this has happened to me more times than I can count -__-)

...Once you stumble across a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime idea for a book, it's hard to treat thestory with the irreverent disregard needed to transform it from a great idea into a workable rough draft. When you give yourself one week to flesh out your concept, you won't have time to feel overly protective of your ideas. And you will therefore stand a much better chance at briging them to life.

2) Past a certain point, novel planning just becomes another excuse to put off novel writing. (Me: So TRUE. Personally I once spent a year planning a book and I STILL haven't written it yet. I know just about everything that happens, even the color of my protagonist's favorite shoes which is blue.) Give yourself the gift of a pressure free novel, and just dive in after one week.

3) Pre-writing, especially if you're very good at it, bleeds some of the fun out of the noveling process. Nothing is more boring than spending an entire month simply inkng over a drawing you penciled out monts earlier. (Me: Also true. On the first day of nano once I had a story that I wrote a few pages for before but decided to scrap those and start anew. I ended up changing the book I was going to NaNo with the very next day because I couldn't take it anymore. And that book, which I had never written a word of before, turned out to be one of my favorite completed manuscripts.)

How do you plan for a novel? Have you ever encountered any of the problems like the ones listed above?



  1. I always plan first but I usually don't use my planning. It's something I have to go through until the story is in my head. Then I let the characters and story take over and rarely use my notes.

    1. Sounds like a great way to go about it! The way I plan is similar except sometimes I start planning future things as I go along. There's always something extra so I always write it down before I forget.

  2. Great post, Ez. Yes, I've encountered those issues for sure. And NANO was amazing for me the one time I did it, because I wrote at a blazing pace, without stopping. There is something to be said for doing that sh*tty first draft. Once you've gotten it down, then you can play with it! On the other hand.... This is interesting timing because I am doing a guest post tomorrow (March 5th) over at Seeing Creative on plots & hooks. Stop by if you want! I'm pretty happy with getting out what I wanted to say about it. There will be a link to it from my regular blog. Happy Sunday!

    1. Yeah! I think getting it down the first time is the hardest part. Revision is my favorite part of the writing process because it can only get better vs. worse. :)

      And thanks! I'll definetely stop by tomorrow. It seems like everyone's writing about hooks this week. I just read an article on it over at Wordplay. :)

  3. This is a great post! I think I sometimes over-plan my novels. But I'm also terrified that if I don't know where the story is going to go, I'll never get there. So like Kelly, I plan my book and then keep a copy of my outline next to me in case I get stuck, then I sort of just let the writing take me to where it wants to go - but always check back in with the outline to make sure I'm on the right track. Still, you do have a point about revision only making it better. So maybe I shouldn't worry so much. :)


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