Hello Friends and Welcome.
Today I wanted to begin a series diving into my planning process. As with my revision series, I do things my own individual way. I’ve always been fascinated by other authors’ planning processes so I wanted to share my own in case something I do could be helpful for another writer. My way may only work for me–it’s important that you find what works for you when it comes to your writing process.
The first thing that I do when I sit down to plan out a story is create what I call my “Quick-Reference” guide. It is basically a few pages long and gives a very big picture overview of the important elements of the story I am going to write. I do this step in a Word document and I keep it pretty simple. When I start this process, getting the document completed should take only a couple days to get through.
I always start with a pretty basic idea of my story and I use the Word document to flesh it out and focus the elements. This part is not a full-on map of the story, but it provides a little bit of guidance and focus for when the full-on plotting process starts. My document contains the following six sections:
The first section consists of a one-paragraph summary of the story along with specification on the ending. It’s usually pretty rough, but it works to get my mind focused on the direction the story needs to go. I find that it is helpful to boil down the extensive ideas in my head into a single paragraph. Doing so gives me focus on the main storyline and helps me to not be distracted by shiny other ideas for the story that may not go.
The paragraph on the initial document is only in regard to the main storyline. I find that I rarely break down the B/C storylines for my thrillers at this point. Through my writing experiences, I have found that my B/C storylines change a lot through the drafting process. I find that it’s easier to let those storylines evolve as I write and focus/flesh them out with draft two pre-work.
Find the Protagonist
In this section, I specify who my protagonist is and write a few sentences about that individual. I don’t do a full character study at this point, but I hit the major highlights and make sure that I am clear on their main motivations and struggles.
Write an Opening Line
In this section, I determine what the opening line to my first draft will be. This sentence rarely ever remains in future drafts, however it makes it easier to get into drafting if instead of having a blank page, I already have a sentence to put down and go with. I find that it helps with the momentum of starting the story. I love writing stories, but the beginning can often be a struggle!
In this section, I list out the physical locations that will appear in my novel, and write some very basic information about each place. On occasion I will also take time to do a quick sketch or two for locations that are extremely important to my story, but that’s not always necessary. This section is not intended to be a multi-paragraph affair – it is simply a starting point that allows me to have a quick reference when drafting.
I find that I work better if I fully develop the setting after the first draft. By that time, I’ve gotten the plot and characters really nailed down, which is my main focus with the first draft. My goal is always to have enough of an idea so that I don’t have a full-on “Blank White Room” issue going on but not so much that I’m trying to work a ton of details in before I have the characters and story mapped out.
This section is actually pretty similar to the setting section. I list out all of the characters and write 1-2 paragraphs about them with the highlights of their background, interests, family members (if applicable), and any other big details that I want to remember about them as I am drafting.
This section is mainly intended to focus on my main and big recurring characters – not every character gets even a paragraph in this section. It’s not intended to be very long. My main goal with this prep sheet is to have a quick fact sheet to reference when I am writing.
Research Topics to Explore
This section does not often get filled out very thoroughly, however I like to have a place to put questions as I am prepping. This section is basically a bullet-point list of items that I think I need to research prior to plotting or drafting my story. As I work through the other sections of this reference guide, I will jot down anything that I feel needs to be researched.
For example, when writing Autumn Sunrise, I had a character that had taken the exam to become a Federal Agent and I wanted to research what that process would have been like and see if I could find experiences of people who had taken that exam and gone through the training. While this character will end up being cut from future drafts, it was fun to go through that research process. And who knows, maybe a future novel will utilize this knowledge!
Once I have this reference guide, I am ready to start the scene breakdown part of the planning process.