Monday, May 18, 2015

Pre-Writing a Novel, Making a Road Map

The next time I start a brand new project with new characters, I plan to follow these steps BEFORE I spend any time writing the actual story. At the beginning of my writerly life, I would have considered this a huge waste of time—when I already know (mostly) how the story will go in my head. But ultimately, for me, writing panster-style (and writing by consensus) created years of rewriting, reorganizing, and countless cleanups to make sure all the details were still true to what was kept (and that details or character comments didn’t pertain to something that got cut).

This recommended process (a writing assignment from my publisher) took me about two weeks and ended up being about 25k. I have referred to it often in the course of writing my series, because some plot threads span more than one book, some characters aren't fully revealed in a single book, and I can't forget who and what they are (lest I end up with loose threads and characters who vanish for no apparent reason.)

1. List every character who has a name and give them a face (a real picture from google images—no one but you will ever see this image, so no worries in regards to fame or legal rights)

2. Give each person a life—age, family status, why, who, where, how, what they want, goals/dreams/fears. What part do they play in the story? Where do they end up by the time the story is finished?

3. What are the plots? What are the sub-plots? Play all the plots out to the every end, including all major turning points, climax, and end (for every plot, like a synopsis!). This will give you a steady pace to follow, and keep you from giving away too much info too soon (if you know exactly how much is there in the first place).

4. Think of questions that could potentially rip your story apart, and figure out the answers before you start writing. (How does an entire community of shifters stay hidden? Why can’t Ariel write Eric a note to declare her love (after she’s lost her voice) when it’s clear she knows how to write? Who has access to the ‘magic’ and why?)

5. Connect all the dots. How does each character interact with the main character/s? Do they help or hinder? If they do neither, maybe they shouldn't be involved at all (if you’re doing this AFTER your story has been written, and you’re looking for ways to cut. If you love the character too much to cut, make him/her earn his way into the story by giving him a purpose that makes sense. Or save him/her for book 2, or another story entirely.) :-)

This is a great way to determine how much value a character or plot adds to your story. You don’t want or need extra wordage the reader could do without, or “talking heads” with no real cause.

Have a solid plan and know your characters’ personalities before you begin the writing, and you’ll save hours and hours (maybe months) of fixing timelines, filling plot-holes, and tweaking details for pace, believability, and dimension. With each character and plot, you should know exactly where they need to go and why. How they get there can still be a surprise in the writing, but the destination (along with the critical gas stations) should be mapped out before the journey begins.

*bonus tip! If your ideas gets tweaked along the way, do you best to keep this master document updated as you go. Because every time you come to roadblock in the writing, you'll have an accurate map to get you back on course.

If a *shiny new road has your wheels spinning faster, you can more accurately predict how much change one little detail might have on the overall story--if you can still get to the same destination on a different route.

*There's no harm in changing the destination before you get there, you just have to make sure all the details agree to change direction. If you've already written stuff that no longer's not the end of the world (just more work). Sometimes a different destination is well worth the effort. ;-)


  1. Nicely stated. As a fellow pantster, I'm finding real benefit to exercises like this. Maybe I'm finally maturing as a writer. In any event, the only downside initially for me was realizing how much is there to figure out, realizing the daunting task of getting it all down. But the "mature writer" in me has finally realized this is a truly good thing to do. So thanks for sharing this.

  2. Yeah-- maybe it is a maturity thing. Efficiency wasn't an important factor in those early years...:-)

    And people say it takes the joy out of writing, but the joy for me is in the creation of a story more than typing it out (though I do love editing). It's nice to play out the creative 'what if' scenarios in a format that doesn't require a huge commitment, or any right-brain perfectionism. There's time for that later!

  3. This is great! So very helpful, Thaks!

  4. Thanks! Just about to start on a new project. I will definitely use this and it will be so helpful to have everything thought out and written down.


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