How to Plan a Book, Part Two (of Two)

Continuing on from How to Plan a Book, Part One (of Two), here are steps 7-10 of how I’ve planned Everborne over the past year.

Step 7: Plan for the Future

Before I returned to school—I mean work—from my half-term break, I said I’d ask my boss by Easter about the potential of working part-time the following academic year. I ended up not even being able to wait a week before asking. I was given an informal, positive reply. Since then, I didn’t re-consider my future. I would be writing Everborne and I would be working part-time.

I’m not working part-time. That didn’t work out but I believe it was for the better. I’m going to gloss over the decision to commit to writing full-time as I already talked about it in a previous post.

Step 8: Set a Deadline and DON’T miss it!

September was my deadline to begin writing. It made my planning become more productive, focused and thought-out. Once I had a deadline, everything else seemed a lot easier. (Setting my own deadlines has been easier than when I was at university; likely as I’m the one setting them, but that doesn’t mean they’re lax.) I promised myself I wouldn’t miss it. Otherwise, Bad Tom. But I wanted to be Good Tom and I made sure I was. Good, Tom.

Step 9: Plan your Pants off!

Figuratively, of course. Nobody likes a naked writer.

With my deadline unwavering, I did the following between June-August. This was all done by trial and error, to work out what was the best for me, though I would say it has all helped, some perhaps more than others.

Research: even though I’m writing a science-fantasy novel, I’ve still had to do a fair amount of research, from the etymology of words; to Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Norse mythology; to how the moon affects the Earth’s tide; to the Sixth Mass Extinction; to the life of trees; to how energy works; to Taoism and Dualism; to egg incubation; to much, much more. Once I researched a topic I then had to decide if and how it would work into Everborne.

Bought a Chromebook: I wanted something portable to write on so I wouldn’t be restricted to where or when I could write; I bought a modestly priced and well reviewed Chromebook. GoogleDocs also gives me the benefit of being able to access my work from anywhere, so I’ve not always needed the same machine to work from.

Narrative Timelines: With what I had already planned, I bought an A2 sized notepad—cor, an absolute whopper!—and plotted the timelines of several main characters. I found this really helpful as I could visually see what I had planned for each character and, as the story is multi-narrative, where things happened in relation to each other. I was able to see what narratives needed working on and where, and could think about how I could go filling in the gaps between plot points. I must admit I haven’t looked at this much recently but that’s only due to the next stage:

Plot Doc: I created a Google Doc (Word’s equivalent/advisory) with five columns (Chapter, Narrative, Perspective Characters, Summary and Estimated Word Count) and many, many rows (around seventy-five) and filled them with all my notes relating to plot and story, forming a skeleton of structure. I worked out how many chapters I would have (currently 68, as well as a Prologue and Epilogue) and ordered them. Once I had a rough idea, I began adding the meat around the skeleton, filling each summary with notes. As I did this, I refined my plan, moving, condensing, combining and deleting chapters. I keep this document open every time I write and I keep adding ideas to it even now. It currently stands at 16,000 words.

Sounding Board: Having someone to talk your ideas through with is an invaluable benefit. My sounding board is Emily. My go-to girl. Thanks to all my questioning and persistent pestering, she now knows a fair amount about Everborne. Any time I have a new idea or am unsure about something, I ask for her honest opinion. Sometimes her initial reaction is enough. Others, it’s good to hear what a potential reader would think, whether it’s positive or constructive. At the very least, it allows me to talk my thoughts through with someone; I have to explain my decisions which can be good reinforcement. When you verbalise something it can become much clearer.

Typed up Handwritten notes: Petrified I’d lose both my pocket-sized notebook and my LARGER-sized notebook—Bromley is infamous for its notebook-bandits—I copied all my vital notes. This was for peace of mind more than anything else, but it was a good way to go over my notes before I began writing. I currently have 10,500 words of  typed notes.

Character Questionnaires: This is something I have never done before but I am so glad I did. I created a questionnaire, of around eighty questions, to be answered (in character) by the main characters. This has been so useful. It’s allowed me to get to know the characters before they’ve even begun on the page. Each questionnaire, depending on the character, starts between 500 to 2,000 words. They can be challenging, draining and a bit repetitive, but are very rewarding and unequivocally worth it. This hasn’t stopped me from spontaneously writing some characters though, which I’ve done for a couple of minor characters already; I found this really enjoyable, especially when they seemed to form themselves.

Fragments: Any fragments, be it words, sentences, paragraphs or chapter titles, I wrote down in my notebooks or on my phone in a text to myself to later copy, edit or discard when I came to writing that point in the story.

Rambling Mind: Having a dog to walk through miles of wooded countryside is best for this (after all, Everborne begun on a normal weekly food-shop walk) but I can just as easily switch-off during a film, whilst driving (not enough to crash, that would be counterproductive) or even when talking to someone. Seriously, I think about Everborne most of the day, every day. Just thinking about upcoming scenes or underdeveloped characters or asking myself questions is a great way to generate ideas (that I’ll later write down, in my notebook or phone) and to get/keep things developing. It’s a good way to start the day, as well, to think about what I’m going to write next.

Maps: For some of the settings, I’ve drawn out maps. In rough, at first, before a neater copy. They’re a good visual aid and I find it helpful to know the geography of different locations, whether it’s what street one character lives on and how far away that is to another’s house; or what a character would see if they took a particular route through a city; it’s even helpful to know which direction a character is walking in, left or right, east or west. If I need them, I’ll have them unfolded next to me.

Step 10: DON’T Stop

Just because I’ve begun writing doesn’t mean planning has stopped. Oh no! I normally like to think about a scene before I write it, play it out in my head, so I add further notes to my plot doc. Even when I’ve written a scene, once I’ve reflected on it, I add notes for when I come to edit it.

Be Flexible

(This isn’t so much a step but an approach I have taken during all the stages.)

Planning shouldn’t be rigid. As the story grows, so should the plan. I don’t want Everborne to be boring or predictable; allowing room for flexibility in my planning should help this. If I’m surprised by a development, the likelihood is the reader will be too.

Not only that, but Everborne was originally planned as one novel. A Stephen King doorstop, but a single novel. Then I thought two, maybe three books. Currently Everborne is the first in a proposed six(ish) series. Once I knew this, I started to think about events beyond Everborne.

However, planning one book is hard enough, let alone planning multiple. I was relieved to read in the author’s note of The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King that he hadn’t planned The Dark Tower series by the second book’s publication; that he predicted it to be a six-maybe-seven book series, one he didn’t know the end to, one he was even unsure if he would ever finish.

If someone as successful as King worked this way then it was more than good enough for me. George R.R. Martin originally intended The Song of Ice and Fire Series to be a trilogy. Now fans are (wrongfully) moaning for him to finish the sixth book out of a likely seven series.

Focusing on the one book, with a mind on future instalments, and being flexible has allowed me to begin writing. Planning can be a trap, which I talked about previously, as you can get too comfortable. You can convince yourself you’re not ready, which holds off the scary, risky, really hard bit. It’s essential, though, which is why I continue to do it as I write.

Accepting that it’s impossible to plan every single thing before you begin writing has freed me; otherwise I wouldn’t have started writing. It’s a means, not an end, but it can be if you never move on from it. The only thing more essential than planning is writing. I also believe it would be wrong to plan everything beforehand. Otherwise, where’s the fun in writing it? If there’s no fun in writing it, will there be any fun in reading it? And that’s what’s most essential.

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