It’s no secret I’m a planner while many of my crit partners are pansters, and while I’m not the most organized person in the world, inside my little world of writing...I am. When I take on a new project, I have several strategies in mind before I even write the first word.
And yes, I’m just weird enough to think of writing as a battle plan. The first thing I want to do is organize my troops and battle plans. I set out to get to know my characters with questionnaires, and I insert a basic outline. I utilize, create, and procure all kinds of maps: maps of the state or country, maps of the town. Then I get down to the nitty gritty and draw my own maps of the lay of the land and the setting where a majority of the story takes place. I use a dry, erase board to plot and index cards to outline. I don’t do anything more than write a basic sentence for each index cards. I want my outline as loose as I can get it, because at this point I know it will change. Several times.
I’ve always felt that knowledge is power and I can’t see myself going into battle without first preparing myself. But once I get most of the paperwork out of the way, I feel like I need to write the first chapter (or three), or at least what I perceive as the first chapter, because it often changes and gets tossed out. But it allows me to get a feel for the story, set the tone, and it introduces me to my main characters. The first goal I have is to strategically set my reader up in my world with as little words as possible.
Once I’ve done this, I need to set my battle plan into motion by invoking change in my character’s world. This, as you may know, is your first plot point. Your point of change where you characters' world gets thrown into chaos. They need to react to the change and begin to build their own strategies.
If you’re using the three act structure, this is the point of your battle plan where your characters attempt to fix everything and fail. Several times in fact. This is the slow, steady climb to the black moment. And this is where I often stall out, stray from my outline, or just get plain bored. So in order to get myself back on track, my strategy often includes a re-outline. More than likely, this is where I will include a more detailed outline. I can insert characterization hints into scenes and know exactly when the hero reveals to the heroine that he loves her because I insert the many stages of the love affair into my outline. By the end of a finished product I’ll often have at least three outlines. The current WIP, The Devil’s Defiance, has three and we’re only on chapter nine. I have half the book to go. Lucky me.
Once I’ve re-outlined, then I realize that I need up the stakes and increase the conflict until I reached the black moment. By this time, the tension should be wound so tight the reader can’t bear to take a single breath for fear of missing something. Not only should my outer conflict be moving along nicely, my characters have usually pinpointed and attempted to face their inner conflict at least once without success. It’s an intricate woven web of inner and outer conflict that makes a story work. It’s hard to determine which moves the story along more because they’re so intertwined. And THAT, my friends, makes good storytelling.
Setting up my black moment can often take me several days. I can often see this set of scenes in my head but getting them on paper takes work. My battle strategy is to get my outline down on paper where I can see, more than likely I’ll use index cards. I’ve been known to switch scenes, take them out, put more in and completely re-do the last half of my story before. But I can see the finish line from here so it usually isn’t that difficult to completely rewrite my outline here.
I also bring out my maps. I have a very detailed battle scene in a story that will be released next year called The Valkyrie’s Vengeance. It’s an epic battle and probably the largest in-scale scene I’ve ever written. It was very difficult just to see it all played out in my mind, much less put in on paper. So I broke out my maps. I drew map after map, and many of them looked like the scribbling of a football play. This guy runs over here, this guy catches the ball lol. It was a unique learning experience, to say the least, but it also taught me my biggest lesson in writing. Because I am so disorganized in real life, I needed to be organized in my writing life. Otherwise I had no clue how to get where I was going. So drawing these sketches, maps and outlines through my writing process helps me organize my thoughts into something I could see. Apparently, I am a very visual person, and this is what helps me get the words on paper.
So my writing process sounds very complicated but it works for me. It took me fifteen years to come up with and then perfect my writing battle strategy. I know many of you are pantsers, but do you do anything before you write the story or do you just sit down and write? What is your process and how complicated does it get?