Plotting, Improvising And Writing That Pesky Novel

Certain . . . “happenings” have prompted me to talk about plotting verses improvising. That “happening” being me completely disregarding the outline I rushed to “complete” during the days before November. Here’s something I just found out about myself (although, in hindsight, I should have seen this coming), I’m an improviser at heart. I love just winging it, even if I know that an outline will make it much more likely that I won’t end up somewhere I don’t want to be. Because here’s the thing, not even five hundred words into my NaNoWriMo novel I was already deviating from my outline and planning out in my head where I wanted things to go, that only very vaguely matched that of my outline.

I could say I basically just wasted my time even bothering to write an outline, but if I hadn’t tried to follow one, I wouldn’t have found out that mine is the last mind that will be restrained by a rigid, structured outline. You’re unlikely to find your ideal writing process on your first try. Although, to be fair, I was an improviser to begin with . . . and to be fair, that hasn’t gotten me very far.

So . . . Plotting and improvising. Let’s get into my ramblings about it.

I was originally going to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each, but then I realised that I can make this much more concise . . . and make less work for myself.

I don’t think it’s such a black and white topic that can be answered with one always being better than the other. Every writer is different, in many respects. What may work for one person may not work for another, and like I said, you’re unlikely to find your ideal way of writing on your first try. Sure, plotting and improvising have their advantages and disadvantages, but I suppose when choosing which way to go, it depends more on what kind of writer you are.

If you like knowing what you’re going to write, if you like structuring your novel, if you like creating elaborate diagrams of the relationships between the characters and other things of the like, then of course plotting will be right up your street. If you like only having a vague idea of where your novel is going and making the rest up as you go along, if you find knowing exactly what’s going to happen boring, if you like being able to write things as they come to you, not being restrained by an outline, then of course improvising is for you.

Some will say plotting takes the fun out of writing, and the plots are rigid and easily predictable, while others will say improvising is likely to produce a sub-par novel, ridden with plot holes, inconsistencies and underdeveloped subplots. That’s all probably true, but then again, first drafts are always going to be a pile of . . . First drafts aren’t exactly winning any literary awards, regardless of how they are written.

Me? I’m not exactly a plotter, but I always have an idea of how my stories start, some of the random crap that goes on in the middle, and how they end. Even if it’s not written down, that’s always the first thing I do . . . Only, it would be, if the first thing wasn’t getting down the main characters. I need to get the setting down, too . . . And random, needless information about the characters that will probably never make it into the novel is a must . . . All that, I do, but an outline, I do not! I’m a born improviser . . . when it comes to the plot.

As we’ve found out, even if I write an outline, it’s not as if I’ll stick to it, but whatever method works for you, go for it.

Well, I’m off to improvise the hell out of this novel.

Happy writing!

Laurence out.

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My Take On Planning

Greetings everyone! It’s been just over a week and I’m back for another one. That’s some real diligence right there. I don’t expect this to be of any real quality or use to anyone, but at least I’m not being absent for months on end.

Anywhos, you could all probably guess what this one’s going to be about. The wonderful, most bestest and funnest part of novel writing, the planning stage. But maybe I’m being a little unfair. It’s not that it isn’t fun… per se, but holy poop can planning a novel be highly frustrating! Especially if while you are planning, your mind is doing a wonderful job of trying to just keep forcing you to put more and more ideas into the story, already running rampant with ridiculousness. Well, this is going to be about what I do when planning and outlining. I repeat: this is going to be about what I do when I’m planning and outlining. I am in no way endorsing this as a guide for everyone else, because it’s probably… No. It’s definitely horrible, and I only know how to plan for myself. I guess I’ll just get right to it then. So first on the agenda:

The basic plot.

A stupid point. A stupid, stupid point. I mean, what writer goes into a story without at least a basic plot? Even a vague idea for a plot? Nevertheless, it’s still a point. A stupid point. But a valid point. And the starting point when writing or planning a novel.

The characters.

I won’t go into detail because this could probably make up an entire blog post on its own, but every story needs a cast… (I don’t know why I like point out the blindingly obvious today…) This is one of the first things that I actually start to write down in the early planning stage, but initially, most of what it would be is just the names.

The setting

I’m not going to say something stupid again, like every story needs a setting. But every story does need a place in which the events of your story unfold. Now, how you go about planning this varies from genre to genre. For example, unless you’re writing any form of speculative fiction, world building is kind of a non-issue. You would just have to do a little research on wherever your story is set and try to get things accurate.

If your story is speculative fiction, then chances are your setting isn’t going to be as easily researched… as it wouldn’t exist. At least, not as we know it. So, how you would go about creating your world or city or town would be entirely up to you, and depend on whether you’re changing an existing place or creating one of your own. What I did with my current work in progress was first decide whether I wanted to create my own city or use an existing one. Since I made my own, I then wrote down the main towns in the story and all that important stuff in them. And then, so I could visualise it better, I drew some outrageously amazingĀ  maps that serves no other purpose than to make me wonder why I’m not a professional artist… Just…. Just don’t look at my last blog post.

The characters…

What? I already said the characters? Of course I didn’t. That would just be crazy.

After writing the setting I’d then have a better sense for the plot and thus, a better idea of my characters. While at first I’d have just listed down the names, now I’d include much more unnecessary detail. After all, I need characters to bring the plot to life to life, and I’ll start, of course, with the main characters; you know, the protagonist(s), antagonist(s), the close family and friends of those characters, the regular friends… the distant family… uh… and the random characters that don’t even get a passing mention… Look. Don’t judge me.

Relationships.

More specifically, romantic relationships. Now, I have a lot of characters, and by “a lot”, I of course mean “a crap ton”. So, I keep a record of whose involved with who, who used to be involved with who before the start of the novel, who breaks up and gets together within the series, and I split that up into either one of the characters dying and the characters just simply breaking up; I have the married characters, of course, and finally the pairs that go under the “weird, crazy drama” category. Some of this just serves backstory purposes that probably won’t get mentioned, and only a few of the couples are actually sub plots, but hey… When I plan, I freakin’ plan everything there is to plan… Don’t follow my example.

The characters… Again.

Don’t judge me… It may not be efficient, but… Alright, fine. It’s stupid.

Now, I would do the character profiles again, instead this time, only with the actually important characters, and with less fields to fill in. Because I want my first character section to be quick to flick through, I don’t include things that would take up multiple pages, like personality, or backstory, so this is where that would come in, and only for the main… and pretty important characters.

So, let’s step back and go over what we’ve learned. First, I come up with the basic plot, then list down the names of the characters I think I will need. I then go on to creating the setting, including what “important stuff” would be in my created worlds… many of which don’t get mentioned. Next is the characters again, this time in more detail… a lot of which doesn’t get mentioned. The relationships between the couples and ex-partners and whatnot, and then we’re back to the characters once more… this time to sort out personalities and backstory.

And all before I’ve even begun to write the outline…

Next! The outline.

This is what I would really need when writing. How people write without them is beyond me. I’d reach a wall, give up and start again if I didn’t have an outline. And I’d keep doing that until the point where I would consider writing to be the absolute worst way to waste my time. Henceforth, outlines exist to prevent me from hating writing with a burning passion. I’m the kind of person who outlines more or less everything… or at least as much as I can without actually ending up writing the story. Because no matter how vague I’d try to keep the outline, I’d always end up including more detail as I go along. So now I just outline by the chapter.

And that’s it. That’s how I plan my stories. Now I’d be ready to finally start the first draft of what would quite possibly be a future best seller if by some stroke of luck every other author vanished off the face of the Earth. Now it would be time to get into the real pain in the butt and write that novel.

Well… I guess I should stop procrastinating and actually finish my plan, huh?

Until my next pointless blog post.

Laurence out,