When it comes to planning I am a bit of a failure. It’s one of those organisational skills that I’m just a bit too lazy for. I’d much rather just get on with it and get the job done most of the time. I’d like to be more organised and know what it is I need to do and what I need to have with me but I’m clearly not enthusiastic enough about this change to make it happen. But that being said I don’t think that as a writer I could write anything longer than a short story without some kind of a plan.
When I first started writing Closer to the Core I didn’t really think much about what I was doing and didn’t really think about the idea of sequels. It actually started as a writing challenge that I set myself. One of my brothers had recently challenged me to a write off (if you will). We were both to begin our story on a rainy night in a quiet forest and we would see what each other created from there. I had a lot of fun writing about these three witch like women observing the universe from there thatched cottage. Neither of us ever finished our stories, I think we both get a lot of enjoyment from starting a story when all the possibilities are open and then tend to get frustrated when those doors of possibility begin to close. But I had such a lot of fun beginning that story that I began to start stories all over the place. Most of them are lost, never to be discovered again. One or two I still stumble across on old memory sticks or folders of old files that I transferred from old computers. Closer to the Core was actually a way to bring all my favourite ideas together. Those three observing witches became the observers, a heavily descriptive piece on a city morphed into Stark stalking his way through London, an alien race I created is woven into the new universe.
I had finally started working on a story that I honestly thought I might finish. But as it was a lot of ideas strung together I knew I was going to have to make a plan. And I had no clue where to start, I mean where do you learn how to best plan out your novel? A writing class? Well that wasn’t going to happen I was working full time and studying full time (Not an easy feat to pull of) I didn’t have time to take a writing class, I barely had time to write. Not really knowing how to go about making a plan I just sort kept the ideas floating around in my head and thought actually maybe I could write it without a plan. Oh boy was I wrong, I have never had such a bad case of writers block in my life. Nothing was forming, it was awful. I eventually started to write down the ideas and put them into a kind of chronological order. Wow, I had more than one books worth of ideas. But I was still blocked.
Then I thought about the kind of writing I would most want to be compared to. Maybe if I had a writing style I’d be able to move forward. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out who my favourite author was, Terry Pratchett, no contest. But no way can anyone just sit down at a computer and emulate a great author’s writing style (well maybe a handful of people can but not me). So I thought about what it was about his writing that I most enjoyed. It’s that interconnectivity. You pick up any one of his books and they can be read on their own, they are individual books that make sense without the others (with the possible exception of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, those should probably be read together). But it’s a neatly self contained universe, the characters can be the protagonist in one book and be a passer by in another. You get to know the capitol city of Ankh-Morpork as though you lived there. The thieves guild is briefly mentioned in one novel and at the centre of the next. The interconnected geography, characters, ideas and religions are phenomenally well put together. So much so that it could go unnoticed by the passive reader. That is what I wanted for my work. It was a pretty big goal to set myself and I knew that meant I’d be making a series of books.
All of a sudden that plan became even more important, I finally began to write out what I wanted to happen chapter by chapter for the first book. And at last my writers block was cleared. For all of about three chapters… ugh. I was pretty frustrated about that and whined about it a fair amount to one of my sisters. After about a month she comes back to me and suggests that maybe I’m stuck because I don’t know my characters well enough. That’s when I first started making my character sheets (the ones I talked about in Developing Some Character). Hand on my heart I’ve never written so prolifically as I did for the following three weeks. My plan was formed, my character sheets were filled in, there was nothing blocking me from writing and I smashed through chapter after chapter with ease.
I had intended for this to be about how to plan and what the best to plan is. But as I didn’t write a plan for it, it’s morphed into a recollection of all the mistakes I made when I began writing my first novel. Hopefully me sharing my mistakes will either make you laugh because you did the exact same thing or help you to avoid doing the same. Chances are you’re actually just not a bit of an idiot like me and didn’t have these problems though.
I never write a plan for these blog posts but at least I can proudly say I always plan my creative writing now. Maybe there’s also something in this tale to be said for the benefits of having a lot of siblings that you can use as sounding boards…