Wrangling Cats

For me, starting to write a new book always feels like spontaneously deciding to hike up a mountain trail. For the first couple hours it feels like a great idea, a fantastic one even. Sweet smelling trees all around me, clean air sweeping the city smog out of my lungs. I could go on forever! Then I realize the sun is setting and I'm miles away from my car. 

It's hard to keep perspective when surrounded by all that natural beauty. Book ideas are the same way. When I first start planning and there's an idea I'm super excited about, everything is wonderful! Ideas jump over each other like migrating salmon to vie for a place in the new world. There are so many ideas I can't write them all down! Gradually I pluck the best ones from the thought clouds and bind them with ink. Characters walk through the Mists of Fiction and lay down on my altar of offered words. They're ready to carry the story forward! But am I?

No matter how much those creative engines are screaming, it's always beneficial to do a little planning. I know, I know. Planning isn't fun. It's work, isn't it? I used to think so. I was a pure noveling pantser. I finished my first NaNoWriMo that way and I don't think I've ever experienced a writing high the way I did then. But coming back to it a couple months later I could see all the things even three hours worth of planning could have avoided. 

Planning doesn't have to be a burden. It's doesn't even have to take more than twenty minutes or even be longer than twenty words. In his book 'Hooked' Les Edgerton details a nifty little outline everyone can benefit from. Best for all us pantsers, it takes very little time to develop! His book guides you along the shaky scaffolding of your novel's structure until you emerge on the other side with a working model of what you're writing toward clutched in your hands. I won't get into too much detail here, but this is one of my Must Have books when I'm starting a project. Any time I get stuck and need some advice, I turn to 'Hooked' and read. I actually have two copies of this book, one clean for loaning and one heavily annotated for reference. I highly recommend it for the writing journey. The little outline I build sits at the top of all my book documents and has saved my story from flying off to Neverland more time than I can count.

My other Must Have for plotting and planning (or scheming and dreaming as I call it in my head) is Jane Vandenburgh's 'Structure of the Novel'. This book is more of a read-and-absorb type of helper. I don't often read it while I'm actually writing, but I always skim over my notes before I start. Vandenburgh believes each novel has it's own structure that's formed for the unique book its containing. The only way we can discover this structure, she says, is to trust your words and start writing. At its core a book is built from scenes. Vandenburgh's book helps you discover how to use these scenes to tell a story. I've found it to be indispensable knowledge to have. It's good to find someone urging you to break away from the accepted book structures and explore the wild planes of fiction hand in hand with your own book. 

A little planning won't smother the life from your first draft. Instead it's the pine needles beneath the logs, ensuring your flames take hold and burn hot. Do you have any favorite books or strategies for planning? Or is the whole idea a bunch of hogwash? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the rec on Hooked. I might have to give that one a go. Hopefully I can get through the book. I seem to have issues getting through how to writing books usually. Am still trying to get through Stephen King's On Writing. Going on almost two years now!

    I don't often write up plans myself, I find they drain the excitement out of me and I end up seeing the story as a chore that I have to do. Although, I do have to eat my words here and say that for the last Nanowrimo I did, I actually forced myself to sit down a month before and wrote out a guideline for each chapter - just short signposts with key words and it did help me to actually write and complete the entire story from start to finish. And made it easier to meet the end of November deadline.

    I just have to get over that initial knee jerk reaction I get to writing out a plan.

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