Another National Novel Writing Month is now one month away. I’m feeling pretty good about this one, and the reason for that is taking an improved approach to my planning.
When talking about writing preparation, the Start Writing Fiction course noted that you have to find what works for you; and I’ve experimented with a few different pieces of advice over the years for constructing a plot framework and character profiles. When I first started doing NaNoWriMo in 2009, I ended up using a partial version of the Snowflake Method (see here). If you’ve never heard of it, this method basically means starting as simple as possible – summing up your novel idea in one sentence – and then getting more and more complex with every step, like the formation of a snowflake.
After completing Step 2 – summarising the plot in one paragraph containing “three disasters plus an ending” – I decided I had enough material to do my own next step: writing a bullet-point outline of three acts and the scenes contained therein. I didn’t bother studying the characters much as I already knew most of them: it was the sequel to a novel I’d written a few months earlier for practice. And it worked out. I got to 50,000 words in good time, despite some slow periods and ridiculous improvisation along the way.
In 2010 and 2011, I adopted pretty much the same planning practice. While I did do character profiles this time, I didn’t use the Snowflake Method way, but some other outline I’d picked up elsewhere: just describing physical appearance, character traits, goals and motivations. It seemed to work OK, but I kept worrying that I hadn’t done quite enough. Then again, I’m a natural worrier.
Camp Nanowrimo 2012 was kind of a special case, given that I was writing a story set on the Titanic. Constructing an outline for this story didn’t need to follow the same rules: the events onboard the ship provided a convenient backdrop for the action that the characters had no choice but to respond to. My job was to focus on the characters’ backgrounds and personal journeys against the backdrop – and, of course, whether they survived or not.
For my 2012 and 2013 NaNoWriMos, however, I started getting a bit lazy when it came to planning. Maybe it was the ideas I chose; maybe, in my vanity, I thought my extensive experience would help in this regard – but I got it into my head that if I just made a comprehensive plan of the beginning (and a vague idea of what I wanted at the end), I would be able to work the story out as I went along. This works for some writers; I’ve now established that it doesn’t work for me. I still made it to 50,000 words, but unlike my 2009 and 2010 efforts, I didn’t write a linear narrative: I kept skipping back and forth to interesting scenes.
Then, this year in July, my perfect record was finally broken as I failed to finish Camp NaNoWriMo, even though I’d reduced my word target because I knew I’d be away in Italy for some of the month. I spent a lot of time that month preparing for an interview, so that did factor in – but so too did the fact that I really didn’t plan enough this time and got quite stuck as a result.
Well, I’ve learned my lesson. I am a planner, and for this upcoming NaNoWriMo, I must plan. This time, I’m picking up the Snowflake Method again and taking it all the way – and so far, the results are very promising. I’m far more certain where I’m going to go with the story than I was at the start, and I have a good feel for the characters. My primary goal is to actually keep it linear and cohesive this time.
In other writing news, Natasha McGregor, a fellow member of the Lancashire and Cumbria NaNoWriMo group, is currently working on an online magazine called Bibliophilia. It’s going to feature poetry, short stories, and a variety of writing-related features – I’ve contributed a book review, and I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else involved brings to the table (additional contributors are still welcome, btw). The first issue will be available on 1st November, so please check it out!