Friday, 5 April 2013

Planning - The Creative Process


If you're anything like me, you plan your books down to the last detail. I know that I get a little obsessive with my planning, but it really helps me to stay on track. I use chapter notes, character note cards and keep a track of the days of the week, plus the pages each chapter corresponds to in my document. I also keep a tally of how many pages each chapter ended up being, as well as the final word count after I finish each chapter. I've discussed word counts before and how they do not make or break a story, but I figured I'd do something about the actual planning that happens BEFORE a story is even started. Here's how I approach a new story.

1. Chapter Plan- What goes into each chapter is written in the chapter plan, or at least that's how I do it. I start with a blank word document and number each chapter. Then I go back and write a little synopsis of each chapter. This can include what I want to happen, any major plot points and anything like that. Once I have this document ready, I print it out and that leads me to the next point.

2. Word Count, Days & Chapter length - I write the projected word count at the top of the chapter plan and as you know from the Word count piece (found here.) Once that is done, I'll note down what days of the week each chapter is supposed to happen on. This gives me some idea of how many days/weeks the story will happen over. I try to include things like school days in the actual chapter plan. Once that is done, I decide how long I want the chapters to be, I usually aim for a minimum of four pages and will then keep a running tally on the chapter plan. The thing usually looks very worn and tattered by the time the book is finished. I also record the day I started the book and next to each chapter synopsis, I'll add which pages in the document they are.
 

3. Character Notes - When you're writing a series of books, keeping continuity is a BIG thing. I make a note of the description and general notes of why and what they do in the story so that I can look back at it later to check out anything I might need to include to make sure I don't introduce a character and give them the wrong hair colour or have them do something they already did. I make sure that with each new appearance I note their actions (just a synopsis) on their note card. Now, I didn't use to do this for the standalone books like Blackout and such, I mean I had some character planning, but nothing to the scale that I use now. Before I even write the first sentence of a new story, I make sure that I have every character that I plan to use written out on my character notes. If a new character pops up, I write down everything I need before I use them.

So, that's how I plan. With a series like Dying Thoughts. I have to be sure to keep a note card for every case that Tara is involved in. I don't just mean the major case that runs through the whole book, but EVERY case that she consults on. I make sure that I don't use the same circumstances too often, or at all if I can help it. As Richard Castle puts it in the TV show, CASTLE: "There are two kinds of people who sit around thinking about how to murder people; psychopaths and mystery writers" I'm one of those, but not the kind that involves burying bodies. I'm just too squeamish for that line of work.

It may seem a little OCD to people who don't write, or even those that do write but don't plan in the amount of detail that I do. However, I have found my ways to be extremely useful and as of yet, I haven't run into any problems with it. It has been refined as the years have passed and I'm sure in a few more years and a few more books, I will have refined it even more. If you're going to extend a story over a number of books, taking place over a number of years and/or months, you do need to plan. For some writers, they can plan in their heads and don't need to keep detailed notes. I am not one of those. If I tried to keep every character detail in my head for all of the Dying Thoughts series, my brain would have started to leak out of my ears.

Now, I seem to have taken my own advice on the writer's block front and need to get back to finishing chapter forty-four. That's if the shiny things don't distract me!

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