Writing Corner: Planning

In my last Writing Corner post I discussed Planners vs Pantsers so today I’m going to focus on planning. There are so many ways to approach planning a novel. You need to find a process that works for you, but in this post I’ll give you some ideas and tips on what and how to plan.  

I’m a planner and do quite a bit of preparation before I’m ready to start writing. How you organise your ideas and plans is up to you. I use Microsoft Office OneNote, but there is other writing and planning software you can use such as Scrivener and Dabble. Do research to find out what’s best for you. You can usually get a free trial too so you can try before you buy. I found Scrivener to be quite daunting, so for now I’m sticking with using OneNote to organise all my notes.

There are five main areas I look at when I approach planning a novel – ideas, research, world building, characters and plot. My ‘Ideas’ tab allows room for splurging ideas and brainstorming my thoughts. I’ll come back to those later and filter them through to my ‘Plot’ tab when I’m ready.

Whatever genre you’re writing, you will inevitably need to do research. Whether that’s into a historical setting, types of weapons or how security cameras work. If you’re writing historical fiction, you’ll need to do a lot of research. But even if you’re writing fantasy, research can help you build your world. I recently wrote a fantasy novel inspired by Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. I did quite a bit of research into the ancient world, and then drew inspiration from that research to build my own world. There’s research you can do in the planning stage and some things you will only need to research as you go.

On the subject of world building, you need to understand your world because setting interacts with plot and character. Your setting (whether that be an invented setting or a historical period) will affect how your characters behave and interact with each other. But there is always room to develop and discover more about your world as you write. If you’re writing fantasy, world building will probably be a big part of your planning. Keep your notes organised into sections (e.g. magic, customs, clothing, religion) so it’s easy to refer back to and find those details when you’re writing.

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Writing Corner: Finding Your Process

Questions that I see asked frequently are things like… How do you write a novel? Where do you start? How do you plan your books? The simple answer is that there is no one answer of how to write a novel. There are no rules. The only thing you have to do is sit down and write. But of course we know it’s more complicated that just sitting at a desk and bashing out thousands of words then sitting back, satisfied, having completed a novel.

One of the simple ways that types of writing process are defined is planners vs. pantsers.

Planners – Plan their novels extensively before starting to write their novel.

Pantsers – Don’t plan at all, or with loose outlines, and let the story go where it takes them.

Being a pantser doesn’t mean you don’t plan at all, and neither does being a planner mean your novel can’t change direction as you write.

But how do you know which method you use? And which is right for you? When it comes to the process of writing a novel, you have to find what approach works best for you.

When I started writing, I was a pantser. I’d write down vague notes about my ideas but pretty much dived straight into the writing. The problem was I never finished anything. I’d get part way through and not know where to go next, or go off on a complete tangent and not know how to get the novel back on track. So after years of writing this way and getting fed up of never finishing anything, I decided to start planning more. I planned out a novella chapter by chapter before I started writing. I wrote it in a few months. It was the first project I’d actually finished. So I decided to apply this method to a full length novel. I spent quite a while planning and researching before I started writing. And again, I managed to finish it in a few months. I’d found a process that worked for me and having spent years never finishing anything, I’ve now written five novels.

My process goes something like this. I usually have a random spark of inspiration, usually when I’m doing something everyday like having a shower or brushing my teeth. I get those ideas down on paper. Then I wait for further inspiration to strike. As more and more pieces fall into place, the ideas begin to come together in my mind. I have enough of a concept to start actively working on it. I plan out the plot, characters and world building. Often there will be some research involved before I start. For example, the fantasy novel I’m working on now is inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome, so I did some research around that to give me ideas for my own world. Once I’ve built a picture of my story, I make a chapter plan. Some chapters are planned out more than others, but I have an idea of roughly what will happen in each chapter and where I want the book to start and end. Then I begin writing.

Even though I’m a planner, there is room for spontaneity and sometimes as I write my ideas change. There’s room to flesh out characters and world building as I write, as new situations arise for the characters. But if I have an outline down on paper, it helps keep me on track.

This is the process that works for me. But every writer is different. There is no one process to writing a novel. You have to find what works for you. If your process isn’t working for you, experiment with it. Try different methods and tactics until you find a rhythm.

What does your writing process look like? Are you a planner or a pantser? I’d love to hear how other writers approach their writing, so let me know in the comments!

Writing Corner: Choosing a Point of View + Beginning Your Story

A lot of writers have a point of view (POV) they like writing from best i.e. first person or third person. It can be challenging to move out of your comfort zone but sometimes experimenting can be a lot of fun. When choosing a POV for your novel there are several things to consider, and pros and cons to different viewpoints.

First Person

First person narrative can be really great for getting inside a characters head. You can use this type of POV to really show the emotions and feelings your character is going through. One of the limits of first person, though, is that you only get to see the story from one characters POV. It is possible to switch to another characters first person POV for some chapters but be careful when doing this! It is very hard when doing this to make sure the narratives of the characters are different. For the most part, I would say only do this if absolutely necessary or if it gives something to the story.

For example, in my novel The Water That Sings is part is written from the first person POV of a different character. But I did this for a reason: to show how mental illness impacts on not only the sufferer but also their family and friends. In this case, it was very important to me to use both first person and multiple narratives.

Third Person

When your story has multiple protagonists third person can be very useful. It isn’t as personal as first person meaning it can often be more difficult to portray the characters feelings. But it is more flexible than first person and so works well with multiple characters.

Past or Present Tense

Most books are written in past tense and I know a lot of people find it difficult to write in present tense. I think present tense works best when combined with first person, but it is hard to pull off, so only write this way if you feel comfortable with it. If present tense seems like a daunting challenge then just stick with past tense.

Which Character?

Usually, it is very obvious which character’s POV the story should be told from. But it can be interesting to go for the less obvious choice and can give a new spin on things. How about writing from the best friends POV? Think about this, and come to a decision about who the plot impacts most. But also think about whose POV would be most interesting.

The Beginning

The opening of your story is vital. You need to grab your reader, and if you are trying to get published then you need to grab that agent/publishers. The ‘beginning’ of your story is comprised of your first line, first paragraph, first page, and first chapter. One way to grab the reader is to start with action. No nonsense, just diving straight in. But not all well-known books have an action-packed first chapter, but in that case you need to make sure your style and character(s) is captivating.

First line/paragraph – you need to come up with a clever and imaginative way to open.

First page – make sure you don’t dawdle in your first page, or your reader won’t bother making the effort to turn to the next one. E.g. the main character (MC) getting up for school one morning is one that annoys me (personally) intensely. It isn’t interesting at all. Start with something more interesting!

First chapter – this needs to show your style and character to the reader. They need to get a sense of what the story is going to be like and the personality of the MC. Your main plot probably won’t be revealed until the third+ chapter. But hinting the plot or alluding to a sense of mystery can help make the reader interested.