Different writers plan in different ways. The two most common ‘types’ of planner are those who “plot” their novels out, and those who “fly by the seat of their pants”.
Personally, I’m a plotter.
I think. “oh, a girl, who works as X and finds a Y. She then meets Z. Z is B and lives S and works as a W.” This discovery of my characters, my plot, my setting gives me a nice little map to follow. I then follow that map, writing out the destinations I expect to visit, the events my characters will experience or witness, and if I know, a little bit about how that journey goes.
However, there are times when the answers don’t reveal themselves; or the novel takes a twist and I can’t see ahead. Especially when I tried to write flash fiction – I’d just think of a phrase or see an image. “A blonde woman stands in front of a fire.”
Now what could I do with that? If she afraid of it or enjoying it – are there other people around her, or is she alone? Is she cold or warm, cooking dinner or heating marshmallows? The questions would allow me to either type and reveal her story (pantsing) or to plot out which direction I’d like to take her in (plotting).
Planning With Plot
My most recently started novel, Shadow Sight, is based on my work and experiences of this part of Sussex. I haven’t planned the characters out, but the first thing I did was write a “synopsis”. This was essentially the blurb that may appear on the back cover. By the end, the story won’t match it perfectly, but it gives me a direction to begin typing in.
When I realised I wasn’t sure how much should happen before a specific event, I sat with a friend and talked through how each event would happen and how the book would end. Now I feel able to continue writing – I have a path to walk on.
Mapping the Plot
For Planes Shifter, knowing it would be a trilogy set in a made-up world, I drew a map. This was useful for the sequel, and will be used for the final instalment too. The version I have now is full of coloured codes and place names, and it’s possibly the best plan I had for seeing how long it would take to get from one place to another, or what challenges my travelling characters may face.
The map also gave me clear views of the climate, weather, terrain, time, types of clothing and wildlife that my world could experience; which can be helpful even if you’re a ‘pantser’, just to keep you on track.
Another thing I do, which is more of a “planning for the revision process” is to write a note about the scenes as I write them. So I have “Scene 1 – Day 1 – Aine flees the Cliffs. She and Declan ask permission to take supplies and leave.
Scene 2 – Day 3 – A and D flying over the Bristol channel. Face bad guys.”
Each line is from a different POV, and so Scene 1 is written in red, as it’s Aine’s view of the events. Scene 2 is from Declan’s – so his line in this plot plan is written in dark blue. This way I can glance at the 50 lines and see if the characters have each had equal viewing time, or if Aine has three scenes in a row.
The more types of writing I try, the less I seem to need to plan and research to be sure I know where I’m going. For Planes Walker (sequel to Planes Shifter), I didn’t plan it and managed to write 80,000 words in 27 days. However, I had a whole novel written with the world and characters well-defined. I knew them, and how they would act. From that, I didn’t need to plan as much – because in way I already had my path to keep forging.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to plan.
Try out a few methods and see where you get to. If they hinder you, drop them. If they help, trying them with your next piece too.