Day forty-six: What a plan should (and shouldn’t) do

Pretty much finished my work re-planning my crime novel today, aside from some tidying up. I’ve described every scene using a set of questions, and the plan is now nearing 15,000 words. I’m glad I added in some questions about character motivation and that I didn’t stick to writing about the action. Although that would have been quicker, it would also have been easier to summarize and I was trying to get to the specifics. I found myself asking lots of questions of myself until I got to the nub of what I wanted to say. I have K. M. Weiland to thank for that – it’s a curious, friendly voice that asks the questions – not a critical or quasi-objective one. Asking lots of questions was, for me, an excellent way of brainstorming ideas. One question seemed to lead to the next and get me closer and closer to something interesting.

Reading through the scene descriptions, it’s these questions that make for the most fruitful part. I’ve provided myself with a guide to writing the thing. Now, I’ve already written a draft so I’m left with two thoughts: 1) Why on earth didn’t I write this before? 2) How will it help me to integrate new material into the scenes I’ve already written?

Why didn’t I write a plan like this before? Well, it was the thing I skipped (without really realising I needed it) because I didn’t have time – I’d go straight for word generation. I told myself a plan would be too stifling, but in fact I needed to think about the type of a plan required. A plan that was too vague, or too confusing would never work. That curious, friendly voice I mentioned above needed to be present. I also needed the plan to be framed by a set of questions so that it would form a guide to what I needed to write. I don’t know if this would have been possible without getting to know the characters first. (And the first draft allowed me to do that.) The key learning points for me were i) realising I needed a plan, and a plan of this kind, and ii) finding the time to give the plan the specificity, depth and weight it needed.

How will it help me to integrate the old and new? I don’t know yet, but I have essentially written a guide to writing the novel – a set of instructions for myself if you like. I should be able to check that each scene includes what I’ve said I want by re-reading the scene descriptions. Crucially, the plan provides a structure, a sequence of events, and a constraint – and is also specific enough – without killing the story. I’ve asked enough questions to make the process an investigative one.

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