Last Friday I tried (emphasis on tried) to do a kind of live blog as I Properly Planned My Novel. Imma be honest with you: it was crap. Even I got bored. I still needed my plot sorting, though, hence this post. This is for those of you who have an idea that needs fleshing out.
My story idea centres around a trio of characters: a man (Richard), his wife (Karen) and his mistress (Bronwyn). If you’ve read any of my older posts you might have seen snippets of it, but, to be honest, my original thoughts on it were useless. As soon as I tried to write it, I found I was clutching at some pretty slippery straws, so over the past week I’ve Properly Planned my novel. A step I have always tried to avoid. I figure I’m not the only one like this, but having actually bothered this time, I guess I’m qualified to talk about it now.
Method #1: Snowflake
This is kind of what I started doing on Friday. It’s called the Snowflake Method, and, although I’m too lazy to use it myself, I know people swear by it. I could write a long and detailed explanation, but luckily that’s already been done by the bloke who actually thought it up.
Basically, you start small, for example with a summarising sentence (mine was ‘My novel is about the slow deterioration between a husband, his mistress and his wife, and how this leads to a vicious power play and eventually death.’), and build it up and up until you really know what’s going on in your story, who everyone is etc.
I think it’s a fab idea, and it would probably really help anybody trying to figure out what the hell is going on in their novel. The problem is, it’s massively time consuming, and I hate planning. I really do. I am a ‘just write it’ kind of girl, but this always backfires in my face- so here I am. Spending that much time on planning, though? UGH.
Each to their own, I guess.
Method #2: WWWWWH (I think that’s enough ‘w’s)
Or in other words…
(I’m having horrible flashbacks to high school History lessons right now- anyone else?)
This is a really basic way of getting your story idea sorted in your head, but you can go into a lot of detail if you so wish. It isn’t going to give you a full plan of your story, but it’s a pretty good start. Plus, you can use it to plan individual chapters. JK Rowling did (see below; picture from: http://mentalfloss.com/article/26346/jk-rowlings-plot-spreadsheet).
Rowling has columns for the chapter number and title; the month in which the chapter is set; what happens during the chapter; and then columns for specific things like what stage Harry and Cho’s relationship is at. It’s a great idea, and one that would be a great help once you’ve sorted your plot and are beginning your first draft.
- Anyway- WWWWWH. I’ll start with who. This is something I’ve never had much issue with- I’m a massive people-watcher, and I usually have an excellent idea of my characters. If characterisation is an issue for you, please check out Character Planning.
- What happens? You might not know yet, in which case try out some of the other methods in this post to figure it out- in particular #1. Try and put something down, even if it’s just a few words: ‘a war’; ‘a battle’; ‘heartbreak’. In my case: ‘an affair’ and ‘a black love triangle’. You can work out the ‘whys’ and the rest of the story later. If you’re really stuck, just write which genre. It gives just the teeniest indicator of what’s going to happen, and it’s better than nothing.
- I’m going to mix things up: how do the events happen. This is a tiny expansion on the last point. Think of it as the practical side. For example, you answered ‘a war’ to ‘what’, so how does it happen?
a) with nuclear weapons
b) with guns
c) with swords
How do my ‘affair’ and ‘black love triangle’ occur? Well, Richard falls in love with Bronwyn, who accidentally meets his wife Karen; Karen and Bronwyn begin a relationship… um, this sounds really sordid. But, yes, that’s how the triangle occurs.
- When does everything happen? Really, it’s your choice. Some factors of your ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ might get in the way but- go wild, kid. Pick a time period, any time period. Go dystopian future. I am (kind of).
Again, you can use this for your more detailed chapter planning. Check out JK Rowling’s plan again. She knows which month each chapter occurs in. If you want to do that, figure out your plot and start adding dates. A timeline might be useful with this. Again, if you’re stuck, check out my post.
- Where do your story’s events happen? Again, this is limited by the other WWWWWH components, but otherwise you’ve got free-reign. My story’s set in a disease-ridden world ruled by a corrupt monarchy now. Go big or go home. But, if you’re stuck…
Go logically. What are your characters like? Where do you picture them living? What happens in your story? What sort of place accommodates these events? If you’re writing a dreamy love story filled with romantic walks along the beach, you need a location with a beach (go figure). If your love story occurs in the mid-18th Century, the setting of your story is going to be vastly different. Your love struck walk along the beach ain’t going to feature ice-cream vans. And so on. Yay for logic! Still stuck? Check out my posts on location.
- Final part: why do your events happen? What caused the war? What motive does your murderer have? Why is your ghost haunting these particular people?
Okay, some things just happen. But, let’s be fair: most don’t. The ‘why’ is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things to figure out. I think a lot of it depends on how well you know your characters. You need to really get into their head and try and identify with them. What would be their reasoning for doing whatever their doing? Head back to ‘who’ if you’re stuck.
Sometimes, you can use your own life or historical events to figure out why things happen as they do in your story. Look at previous causes of wars. Think of what made you fall in love (okay, okay, sometimes you just do, I know. But maybe he/she/ they said or did something nice, and that made you like them. I dunno, what am I, a love guru?). Even with ghost stories, your ghost was a person once. They must have human motivations for doing something. Why does my, uh, three-way affair happen? A teeny bit of ‘it just happened’ with a huge dollop of loneliness and vindictiveness.
Method #3: Rule of 3
This is a nice easy way of getting the vague outline of your story. Simple: think of your story in three sections. The start, the middle and the end. What happens in each?
For my story:
START- Richard and Bronwyn are having an affair. Bronwyn and Karen meet.
MIDDLE- Richard is kind of cast aside, and Bronwyn and Karen are in a sexual relationship.
END- Death, death, death.
Um, as you can see, it’s like leaping from stage to stage. There’s no development- how do Bronwyn and Karen get together? Bronwyn’s the other woman!
Really, this is your foundation layer. You still need to go into detail about the plot. This ain’t going to get you through writing a novel. So, maybe check out the next method for some help?
Method #4: REVERSE! (I totally did not just start singing the Cha Cha Slide)
Work backwards. How does your story end? Picture it: the final battle; the romantic wedding; the detective catching the criminal. What must happen before that for it to happen? If you’ve used Method #3 you only have to do this a little bit before you reach the middle, which is sorted. Then you head back from the middle to the start. You can work backwards in two chunks- end to middle; middle to start. Likewise if you already have some sequences/ scenes figured out: you just have to string them together.
So, for mine: the story ends with death, but why? Maybe there was a row before. Okay, so why was there a row? And so on.
Method #5: Just write/ Plan as you write
Okay, so I tried this. I thought I could just throw my ideas on a page, then go back and make it into something decent. I failed. I wouldn’t advise it unless you already have a strong idea of what’s going on in your story. Your choice, I guess, but it’s a horrible waste of time if it doesn’t work out.
Alternatively, you could plan a chapter, write it, then plan the next… and so on. Plan as you write. Saves time, I suppose, but I’m not convinced it wouldn’t lead to issues with pacing.
Method #6: Go scriptwriter
I’ve done this before and found it fairly useful. Basically, you write your story as a script and then write the script up as prose. It’s fun, you get a better idea of your characters’ voice, and you might find your niche in scriptwriting. The main problem comes if your story is not character or dialogue based. Your story might be more action-based. Hard to convey just what’s going on in just words. Plus, it’s like having a massive conversation in your head. People talk fast, you know? You’re going to have to race to get everything down on paper, and that might mean you miss things out. This is a major issue for me anyway. I think of a cracking bit of dialogue, and I mull it over in my head, and before I get it on paper- I’ve forgotten how it started.
I hope this was useful for you all!