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!


13 Responses to That weird story-planning stage

  1. Kirk Kraft May 22 2015 at 10:45 am #


    I’m a former hardcore outliner but have been writing SOP for awhile now. I’ve heard about Scrivener for a long time and wonder if it might help me keep a little more organized.

    I find myself writing skeletal character sketches and I flesh out the plot as I go but I know the process could be improved.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Jodi May 26 2015 at 11:32 pm #

      That’s funny! I switched the other way around — from seat of pants to outlining. But hey, whatever gets the book written, right?

      I really love Scrivener. It’s been one of the most invaluable tools for me!

  2. Elizabeth Torphy May 22 2015 at 11:07 am #

    I do not know how I wrote my first novel without Scrivener! It is so intuitive to a writer’s mind and needs. It helped me write my second novel in half the time….just finishing it now. I still don’t know all the things it does, but you are correct in that it does allow the process to begin by organizing all those straggly thoughts you carry around before you start writing. I am not a plot planner like you…I let the stories just come…but either style Scrivener truly is amazing. (And NO….I am not a salesperson for Scrivener…..just a writer appreciating that someone came up with program I could actually use and benefit from!)

    • Jodi May 26 2015 at 11:33 pm #

      Seriously, it’s intuitive for me too. It just makes sense and there’s always something else to learn about it — another way to organize or make it work for this book in a way the last one didn’t need. It’s so cool.

      Congratulations on finishing your second novel! What an accomplishment!

  3. Kara May 22 2015 at 6:14 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m pretty sure your last two paragraphs were meant just for me. I’m always working under self-imposed deadlines even though that is the fastest way to drain my creativity.

    I also use notebooks to keep track of everything. I do a lot of research beforehand, mainly on Netflix and from library books within my genre or subject. This helps me ask questions about characters/setting/etc, that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own. It also helps me setup a more developed initial outline so my first draft isn’t so scary.

    • Jodi May 26 2015 at 11:34 pm #

      Oh those paragraphs were definitely aimed at you. 😉

      I like your research/notebook process!! That sounds great!

  4. Rowenna May 26 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    It’s kinda the same as time, but I call it “marinate.” I tend to get ideas while I’m in the middle of others, and since five projects at once isn’t my style, I jot down and ideas and then let the whole thing kind of organically marinate. I find that I think about the world, the story, the characters off and on, and when I come back to the project for real, it’s richer for the slow marinating period.

    • Jodi May 26 2015 at 11:34 pm #

      Ah, yes, marinating! That works too.

  5. Abby May 26 2015 at 2:24 pm #

    I do so many of these things! I keep a “catch-all” notebook where I just collect ideas, character sketches, research, questions, etc. My husband, who teaches reading and writing workshop, calls this the “collecting” phase, because that’s exactly what you’re doing. It’s messy but necessary work. The few times I’ve tried drafting before I’m done with major collecting have not turned out well, usually because the ideas aren’t fully baked.

    Scrivener sounds like a great way to organize all this information, too. I’ll have to try it!

    • Jodi May 26 2015 at 11:38 pm #

      Sounds like we have similar processes with our notebooks! Every thought goes right on in there!

  6. Evolet Yvaine May 29 2015 at 2:24 am #

    I’m new to the adult romance genre and have decided to just jump in with writing my first novel during Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I watched a couple of Scrivener tutorials and have managed to set up my file the way I want it and have character and location sheets as well. Like you, I’m planning to write a series, and have been doing mostly research for Book One. I have yet to plan out the whole series. Because I’m not a planner. I’m a pantser. When I have to outline, my Panster Panic sensor goes off and months of writer’s block ensues.LOL But I’ve read that, as a pantser, I can have a little bit of structure without my sensor going off if I can at least identify my Hook, First Major Plot Point, Midpoint, Third Major Plot Point, and Climactic Moment. I think I can handle that. Hopefully. Wish me luck. O_o

    • Jodi May 29 2015 at 3:09 pm #

      You can do it!!!

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