My Writing Process – Planning

I like to plan my work because it stops me worrying about where I am going. I only need to concentrate on how to get there.
I like to kick an idea about in the back of my head for a few weeks/months/years before I start scribbling notes down. Character notes, snatches of dialogue, a first stab at a first chapter, how it’s going to end.
When I feel I’ve got the basis of a story, I write a few words for each ‘chapter’ on a card and pin it on the plot wall in front of my desk.

I’m not really sure if each card will end up being a chapter, but I put them up in the order that the story progresses. I spend ages staring at the wall of cards, rearranging them, adding new ones until I think I’m done.
Next I write the story out in a page or two. This document will one day turn into the synopsis that my agent will use to sell my story. If I find it difficult to explain what is happening on the cards (and in my brain) then I realise I’ve got a problem with the story which needs to be fixed.
I work between my written synopsis and my cards on the wall until I feel happy that everything hangs together. If my agent agrees and I decide to go ahead with writing the book, I create my control document.
This consists of a To Do List (which is blank at this stage) followed by a detailed chapter by chapter plot outline. This document is for my use only.


Here’s an example from Help I’m a Genius. This one has got scrawled additions to it. I probably wrote them after I’d finished the second draft and before I started the third.
The first line of Chapter 5 reads  ’He’s going to humiliate himself. It’s going to be torture.’ That was probably the words I had written on the card on the wall. I’ve added ‘He feels left out’. It’s important I know how my character is feeling at this point and I want the reader to have maximum sympathy for him. I then go on to describe what sort of things are going to happen in this chapter. His sister has got another tap dancing certificate, his baby brother has a sticker from nursery. Dan has nothing to celebrate. Hopefully the reader is now feeling ‘Poor Dan!’  
Then Dad drops the bombshell. He has a new job in another country. The whole family are going to have to move to America. 
In my plot outline I try and make sure every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, a joke or a dilemma.
I now have my story in three different formats – cards on the wall, synopsis and plot outline. By using different formats, I see my story from different angles. The story has a shape rather than being a jumble of thoughts.
When I’m done – usually after a few weeks – I’ll start writing. Next step – First Draft.

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