That weird story-planning stage

Right now, I’m in the planning stages for a new series. I’ve barely started writing — just enough to get a good feel for the voice — and I’m making lists and lists of things I know I want to include. It’s a weird part of the process. There’s not a lot to say, “Okay, I did this today.” Ideas come randomly, and there’s not much to show for it besides a lot of daydreaming. Here’s how I’m trying to harness it all. (And make myself feel better about all that daydreaming time.)

1. A notebook. 

I picked out a pretty notebook for this story. a) Pretty notebooks make me happy. b) It’s proven very useful for jotting down random ideas. (You know, those ideas you think, “There’s no way I’ll forget this!” and then immediately forget them. Know thyself. Write down those ideas.)

To be honest, getting a notebook for this story started out as an excuse to buy a notebook. But while traveling last month, I stuck the notebook in my purse — then found myself reaching for it when I experienced something that might fit with the book. I wrote down things I saw, heard, felt — and wrote lists of questions for myself. Almost out of nowhere, I wrote descriptions of fictional places I’d previously had no thoughts on.

I’ve been making note of title ideas, figuring out the story structure across the series, and stories about the world’s history. Every story-related thought that occurs to me ends up in this notebook. Unless I have my computer with me, and . . .

2. Scrivener.

I know it isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. I vaguely remember how I wrote before Scrivener, and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

One of the first things I do when I open a new Scrivener project is make a bunch of chapters, character sheets, and location sheets. They don’t need to be filled in right away. It’s just nice to have them. I also open a bunch of documents under the “research” section with things like the original idea for the story (whatever it was that intrigued me enough to write a whole novel/series about it!), any notes I’ve taken, broken down by subject, a query-style pitch, and a synopsis.

It just makes me feel good to have all those things there, ready to be filled in when I know what needs to go there.

For this particular project, since the structure is a little different than I typically write, I pulled out the index card function and used the labels to help me keep track of point of view and timeline. (So some say “so and so’s past” while others say “present.”) And because it was difficult for me to wrap my brain around writing a synopsis for such a weird timeline, I began filling in the index cards with a chapter’s worth of story each. It may not stay that way in the end (few things do make it until the final draft), but it really helped me settle on how the various stories would work and overlap and influence each other.

3. Time. 

This one has been difficult for me. I get excited about projects and want to dive right in, but I’ve been forced to take this one a little more slowly. (Mostly because I haven’t had the opportunity for diving. Every time I vanquish a deadline, two more take its place.)

But taking my time with the planning stage of this project has also been incredibly useful. In my experience, the more I try to force story to happen, the less likely I am to be pleased with the results. I’ll forget details. Skip the sort of depth that I want to write about. Cause the characters to do uncharacteristic things.

Giving myself the space to dip in and out of the story — forgetting about any self-imposed deadlines — is letting me dig deeper. After all, the goal isn’t to win some imaginary race, but to write a book I’m proud of.


So, what do you think? Anything to add? Anything you do differently in this weird pre-writing stage? I want to hear it!

3 Comments

Want to Write Better Stories? Write About Change

If there’s one thing that’s constant in all stories, it’s change. No matter what genre, a character experiences a series of events and things are different by the end of the tale. The more character-focused the novel, the greater and more personal this change is likely to be, but it appears in even the most plot-centric books as well. A mystery starts off with a victim and ends up with a killer caught and justice […]

6 Comments

Revision for Pantsers

I recently finished a fairly major revision on my contracted novel that nearly killed me. How did it almost kill me? I wrote 32,000 words in 7 days in order to get it turned in on time. (I essentially rewrote the entire last act of the book from scratch.) Why did I throw out the last third of my book? Because it made it better. Here’s the thing about revision: I hate it. I am […]

5 Comments

Advice for Getting Author Photos You Love

The email from my editor’s assistant popped into my inbox, the subject line glaring at me: Author Photo… (dun dun dun duuuuunnnn…) If you’re like me, the thought of a professional author photo is both exciting and terrifying. I knew exactly what I wanted: a photo that would have almost magical qualities—a picture of me that would look good, and yet somehow also perfectly represent the real me to my readers. I approached this task […]

12 Comments

All Kinds of Writing

At Pub Crawl, we naturally focus on writing and publishing novels, but of course there are plenty of other careers out there for writers. Before I started writing young adult books, I was exclusively focused on science fiction and fantasy short stories — and I still manage to write at least a couple of those a year. Before short fiction, I was interested in writing screenplays and for television. Perhaps one day I will share my […]

7 Comments