Expanding the Plan

Most writers become aware pretty quickly that there are two sorts of writers: plotters and pantsers. Writers will usually place themselves somewhere on a spectrum with pre-planning every detail on one end of the spectrum and pre-planning nothing and writing totally by the seat of your pants on the other.

Now, I believe every writer begins as a pantser. Even if their natural inclination is to be a plotter, plotting is its own skill and must be learned. So, brand new writers, those sitting down to try their hand at the craft for the very first time, invariably write by the seat of their pants because, at the outset, it’s all they know to do.

I am also of the opinion that as writers mature and grow, they move inexorably toward becoming plotters. The degree of pre-planning that will work best for each writer will vary, but I believe that, at some point, every writer on their path to becoming a mature writer must learn how to add structure to their writing in some sort of planning stage.

On my previous blog site, I posted about a plotting method developed and used by a writer named Rachel Aaron. She posted about it on her blog in a post called How I Plot a Novel in 5 Steps. There’s no way I’ll be able to remotely do it justice in a summary, so I highly recommend reading it in it’s entirety. This method was the first time I had come across a comprehensive template for plotting a novel, and it was absolutely revolutionary. I never had an opportunity to use it because life got in the way, but just reading through it over and over changed how I thought about plotting stories, and my ability to conceptualize a story took a tremendous leap forward. Thank you, Rachel.

Now, add this to that. Several days ago I came across another method, even more comprehensive than Rachel Aaron’s method. This method is somewhat better-known: The Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson. I strongly suggest visiting his site, even if you’re not all that interested in the Snowflake Method. Everything I like about Rachel Aaron’s method is amplified and expanded in Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, but has the added bonus of practically writing your story synopses for you along the way toward plotting the novel. That’s really handy when it comes to selling your novel or pitching an agent. There is a potential drawback to this method (and Randy Ingermanson, himself, has removed a step that he no longer needs), which is that so much of the novel is established before writing Word One that the process can be overwhelming for some writers and cause them to become burned out on the project altogether. But it works really well for Randy and a lot of other writers swear by it. I’ll have to give it a try and see how well it works for me. I’m eager to see.

So, back to Expanding the Plan

According to the research I’ve done, very few writers sell the first stories they write.  And, that makes sense. Do artists sell their first painting? Composers, the first song they ever wrote?  Rarely. Now, some writers develop quickly and manage to sell their second novel. But, more usually, it’s the third, or even the fourth novel a writer finishes that becomes their first novel to be published. I’m sure that, if a lot of them had known that the third or fourth novel they finished would be the first one published, they might have made different choices about what story ideas they pursued.

With that in mind, the Sons of Kalev story is the story I’m most committed to. It’s the story I most believe in, and the story that I believe has the best commercial potential. Consequently, I don’t want to do a rookie job on it. So, given that I have several other projects I’ve started, and that I have not come close to finishing any of those projects, I’m actually going to divert my focus away from the Sons of Kalev project for a while and I’m going to use those unfinished projects to develop my writing skills.

I’m going to start from scratch, as if they were brand-new story ideas, and use what I’ve learned since I started to produce the best work I can. Character development, world building, story arcs, theme, tone, plot and structure, dialogue and exposition, will all be on the chopping block as I re-examine what I’ve done and see if I can complete a first novel. Then another, and another. Then, when I feel like I’m starting to produce commercial-grade writing, then I’ll turn my attention to the Sons of Kalev project and see if I can produce a novel I can sell.

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