With NaNoWriMo fast approaching I have been plotting like a dragonish fiend. I’m a wholehearted plotter, peoples. I used to be a panster (a word here which means “writing-whatever-comes-with-no-direction-or-previous-planning”) but it absolutely stressed me out. I didn’t know what I was doing! Where I was going! WHAT EVEN THE POINT OF MY BOOK WAS. I wrote an entire book without a point because…pantsing. Sometimes I pet that novel and smile at it fondly. But mostly I toss it on the metaphorical bonfire and burn it with the fire of a thousand disappointed suns and then scream like I’ve been impaled by a pineapple frond.
I learnt that I like to plot, okay? It is my thing.
SO HOW DO YOU PLOT, CAIT? WHAT ARE YOUR PLOTTING SECRETS?
This is an excellent question which I plan to answer. Furthermore, before you even start to read about my plotting process, I can give you the excellent news that — MY PROCESS IS DERANGED. I follow no methods. I download no printable outline sheets. Half of the reasons I do something is “because it looks pretty”. But you asked (actually you didn’t, but I know you wanted to ask…see how helpful I am?) and I am answering.
(Also if you’re curious about what I am writing for NaNo, you can read about my deviousness here.)
TO BEGIN, I PLUCK ONE OF MY 9,083 BOOK IDEAS AND WRESTLE IT ONTO THE EXECUTIONER’S TABLE.
I used to pick any idea that tickled my fancy. Now I am agented, I try to be a little more responsible and discuss and refine ideas with my agent. I’m a good moppet like that. Once I have a conglomeration of approved ideas, I then pick the shiniest one.
Aaaaand it also depends on the time of the year. At the beginning of the year I’m 2948% more likely to write something happy and smushy. July saw me writing a contemporary where exactly no one died. October had me killing off several key members and bringing them back as zombies. November … well, everyone will die. Sorry.
(AND A BRIEF DEVIATION TO ASK WHERE THE IDEAS COME FROM?)
From anywhere. I know that’s a horrible answer BUT IT’S TRUE. I get many “what if” ideas from books I read or movies I watch. They never relate. For instance, when I saw The Eagle, I went off and wrote a sci-fi book that had no similarities in plot whatsoever…but. Somehow it happened??
I also get ideas from realising I want to read a certain kind of book and then can’t find one already written. So I write it. I am helpful for me, at least.
SINCE IT’S NOVEMBER, I FEEL LIKE WRITING SOMETHING VICIOUS. SO DRAGONS IT IS. I BEGIN TO READ DRAGON BOOKS.
I almost always descend on the library with sharp teeth for “research” sessions. I hate research. So the best way to do it is by reading everyone else’s YA books. (I’ll start reading books on my topic months before I intend to write, too.)
NEXT I LIST A BILLION RANDOM THINGS I LIKE AND DECIDE HOW THEY FIT TOGETHER.
Usually they don’t fit together. Which is disagreeable. BUT THAT DOESN’T STOP ME. I am queen of all here. These ideas will obey.
This year I wanted dragons, and roadtrips, murder, and unreliable narrator, sushi, compulsive lying, epilepsy, dubious governments, and everything frozen (and if you dare sing Let it Go I will wrap you in a pancake and feed you to my dragons).
Does this even count as “inspiration”?? My process of writing is like 30% inspiration and 70% things that interest me in that moment.
I TRA LA LA AROUND LIKE A HOMELESS PENGUIN AND IMAGINE SCENES.
This usually happens when I take my dog for a walk. Showers are also good for imaging. Also those hours when one is supposed to be sleeping. But PFFFT. You can sleep when you’re dead.
I GET TITLES AND NAMES BECAUSE THEY ARE IMPORTANT TO ME.
Titles technically don’t matter that much now…buuuut. I LIKE THEM. I also pick character names. This 100% depends on what names I’ve recently stumbled across and liked. I almost always have gender neutral names because it amuses me to have characters named Valentin and August and have no one know who is who. Mwahha haha ha.
For this book I was DYING about the names! I couldn’t think of any I liked! I ended up using “Ruby” as a placeholder name and…it stuck. I also spent 2 months calling my main character Kinshi, but then changed it to Matsumoto Mo and felt much better.
ONCE I HAVE THOSE SQUISHY SCENES IN MY HEAD — I WRITE A SYNOPSIS.
I read, somewhere who knows where, that if you write a synopsis BEFORE you write a book, it’s so. much. easier. I AGREE. It’s a lifesaver. Plus when I need to bounce ideas off my agent it’s better to have a flexible synopsis instead of a stammering email of “Sooooo. I like dragons and I want them to eat people and probably they cough up icicles instead of fire?”
I usually write 2,000-3,000 words! I outline scenes and basically have an outline of events. I definitely make sure I have a beginning and an ending. I make sure I have a VERY detailed middle because middles are easy to lose interest and decide to abandon authorhood and take up professional penguin training.
If I get stuck? If the plot just isn’t coming? If I despair the plotting will ever come together? I JUST SIT DOWN AND WRITE OUT THAT SYNOPSIS. I can sacrifice every single step — but I must have that synopsis.
I SCRIVENER EVERYTHING.
This is new! I only just got Scrivener and…oh my gosh, humans. If you are an organisational freak like me — GET YOURSELF SCRIVENER. It’s glorious.
Usually I’d dump everything onto a word doc, but now I can have little folders and folders inside folders inside folders. And excuse me, this is so beautiful to even type I need a moment to cry in happiness.
This is when I:
- Write character profiles: I’ll write out their names, their goals, their failings, their food obsessions. All that squishy stuff. Sometimes I find their MTBI personality and I’ll go onto pinterest and see how an ISTJ functions. I’ll write down their habits according to that too, because IT IS SO HELPFUL. Characters are my failing.
- Do a little world-building: I don’t get too detailed, because first drafts are for exploring my own world. But I write about the culture, the currency, the important details about food. If I have magic, I make rules.
- I research the Weird Thing I’m obsessed with: like for this book I’m interested in Japan. So I take a tour on Youtube of a day in the life of someone in Japan. I google pictures of Japanese food. I get very hungry.
I DO ALSO WRITE JOKES TO MYSELF, BECAUSE I’M HILARIOUS LIKE THAT.
There is nothing like amusing oneself with jokes, okay? I am a highly funny individual and myself appreciates that.
I ALSO USE MY WALL AS A VISUAL STORYBOARD BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT WALLS WERE INVENTED FOR.
Some people hang paintings. I hang lists of characters I’m considering killing. (Oops?) I love putting my outline on the wall because I have a HORRENDOUS memory. And this really helps me to remember where my story is going. I stand and stare at it and think of ceiling wax and dragon wings and it works for me so well. I’ll pin up quotes and character outlines and extra scenes I’ve made up. I turn it into a spider web Sherlock would be proud of.
I PINTEREST AND NO SHAME, FOLKS.
Pinterest can be a black hole of procrastination…it can also be hugely helpful if you’re a visual person. Also if you have face-blindness, like me, and can’t think of what your characters look like (bad for description!) it’s monstrously stupendous to find faces.
THEN I PROCRASTINATE AND WAIT FOR AN AUSPICIOUS DAY TO START WRITING. THEN I WRITE WITHOUT BREATHING FOR 7 TO 10 DAYS.
Because…writing is hard okay?! I have to psych myself up! I’m terrible and usually go “I’ll start on Monday” and if I miss that Monday — I DON’T START ON TUESDAY, BECAUSE NO. I WAIT FOR THE NEXT MONDAY. It’s bad, I tell you. But once I start, I write 8,000+ words a day. I usually write fast for a 7 to 10 days and don’t read or blog avidly. Everyone in the house forgets my name. My dog is forced to fry pancakes and bake lemon pudding for himself to survive.
And then I emerge, exhausted and with numb fingers, and announce I wrote a glorious book that is so deathly hilarious and…I hate it. Like a good artist.
There we have it! ALL MY SECRETS! My methods mostly depend on me having a) a very good imagination, and b) a very clear idea of where I want the story to go. I usually know when a book is ready to move to from imagining scenes to the synopsis stage. But it can be a few weeks…or over a year. I do almost everything by feel! Does it FEEL like a good time to write this book? Do I have enough concrete scenes? How many times can I get away with writing about assassins in one year?? All these questions are asked. Sometimes they’re answered.
And then — I have a book.