Planning A Novel

A Look at the Planning Process

There are two kinds of writers, those who plan their projects ahead of time, and those who don’t. These are generally known as “Plotters” and “Pantsers”. Plotters, perhaps obviously, plot or plan before writing, and Pantsers don’t, instead they “fly by the seat of their pants,” as the old saying goes.

I fall into the first category, the Plotters. When I was younger and writing essentially for fun, I used to be a Pantser. I’d have an idea, it’d form in my head, and I started writing. I had only the vaguest idea of where the story was going and I, quite literally, made it up as I went along. Doing this works for some people, but I found I’d get stuck, or write myself into a corner, and not know how to resolve it. By planning the project ahead, I avoid this. My first novel, The Aule Stratagem, was planned fairly extensively, and I’m doing the same with the as-yet untitled sequel.

This process is different for every writer, but for me, it’s a chapter-by-chapter outline of the story as I envision it. I’ll write up a brief synopsis of each chapter, outlining what happens, when and where, and to which characters. Alongside this, I’ll create a list of characters that will appear in the story, with a physical description and a short background for each one. This will cover their appearance, including the big details like gender, ethnicity and smaller things like hair and eye colour, and notes on distinguishing features. I’ll also talk about their social class – one of the main social divides in the 31st century – family background, accent and the obvious things like which planet they’re from, as well as motives, how they behave, and so on. For The Aule Stratagem, I had to revisit this character list as I decided to expand the story to include multiple scenes set on the pirate ship, which meant I needed to outline a number of new characters to appear in these scenes. I also had one character outlined that I never actually used, as they simply weren’t needed in any scene.

Both the chapter outlines and character lists are worked on at the same time, as I can’t complete one without the other. For the second book in the series, I’ve spent hours outlining characters, as there are quite a lot more than in The Aule Stratagem. I’ve used the characters to populate the chapters I’ve outlined, and I’ll probably expand the chapter outlines with more detail now that the character list is complete.

I also make notes on the ships that will appear in the story in the plan, in a section after the character list. For the new book, this is a list of ships forming the Confederate task force that forms the basis of much of the story. I’ve created a list of ship names and classes with details of the commanding officers, armaments and notes about the ships’ histories. I do this so I have the information ready when I’m writing each scene and I don’t have to stop and think of something or do research, I can just get on and the scene will flow. This is the point of the whole process, essentially – to avoid jarring stops in writing by having everything ready ahead of time.

Of course, the plan isn’t set in stone. It will be changed as the story develops and new ideas strike me, or feedback is received on early drafts and changes are made. Details will be changed, from technical things like the length or mass of a ship, to character details and background information. Planning makes the writing process easier, but it shouldn’t constrain the creative process. Ideas and inspiration appear constantly, and have to be seized. If that means changing the plan, to adapt to a new idea, then the plan is changed. What’s important is the final outcome, the finished story and how it flows, its pacing, the impact of each scene and event. Planning ahead allows you to create the bare bones of the story and start writing, speeding up the writing process and helping it flow. It doesn’t work for everybody and every Plotter does it differently, but this is what works for me at this point in my career.

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