Wise words indeed. In fact, I’m regularly bitten on the arse by my own plans. I can plan for England if I really put my mind to it.
I’m more than happy sitting for days and days, thinking things through, making mind maps, drawing little sketches, writing character bios, hunting for photos that will offer some sort of inspiration or seeing how long I can make a sentence before anyone realises just how long I’ve been labouring over the same point.
It never used to be like this.
When I was at school the English teacher would ask us to write a story about something and I’d write one. No planning, no plotting, no character development, just writing. So what’s changed?
The thing I never did in school was read a whole lot of, How-To-Write, books. Since then, I’ve read dozens of them and the one thing they all have in common is the importance they place on the planning stage.
Many of the older ones place an inordinate amount of importance on planning. One asks for 25 pages of background information on each character, before you start the story, in order to really get under their skin. I’d struggle to write 25 pages on my own life, never mind some imaginary idiot’s.
Being a mindless fool, I’ve clearly taken this advice to heart and now find myself planning things out so much that I never actually get around to writing the damn story. So it’s lucky that the more modern books present an alternative. That of just getting on and writing the story, making it all up as you go along.
Stephen King, for example, says that he likes to just start writing, having come up with nothing more than a vague kind of “what if” beginning. So I’ve taken this on board, thought it through, planned it out and developed:
Mr Uku’s Story Development Technique
To use this technique, all you need is a starting point. No planning is to be done beyond the basic premise of the story and the main character(s) involved.
Once you have your starting point or vague idea, you begin writing. What’s important at this stage, is that you keep telling yourself this is the FIRST draft. Don’t worry about getting your descriptions just right. Don’t worry about getting just the right bits of dialogue. Christ, you can even just mark the place with notes that something incredible and witty needs to be inserted here. Just get on with the damn story.
This first draft becomes your story and character plan rolled into one and will eventually become a full length synopses.
This synopses draft will, obviously, be full of flaws. There’ll be characters that just don’t work, plot holes and all the other cock-ups you’ve been trying to avoid. But there’ll good stuff too. There’ll be a complete plot for starters; even if you change it all later you’ll have a better idea of where it’s going. You’ll have a much better understanding of your characters too without having to write 25 pages of bio.
The second draft is where you do your planning and start to fill out all the descriptive details and witty dialogue. Only now, it’s more like editing. You tidy up the plot, flesh out the characters, make notes as you go and start the rewrite. Notice how much easier this second draft is now that you’ve got the whole story down in a complete form and not just a bunch of disconnected plans?
The third draft should require nothing more than a few cosmetic changes and checks for spelling and grammar. And you’re done. Easy.
Alright, maybe I over simplified things just a touch, but I stand by the technique and will be doing things this way from now on.
The beauty of it is that if your character notes are as in-depth as say, “a man who lives in a graveyard and collects noses” then the fleshing out of this weirdo is done in the actual story and not in pages of psychological dissection and background
The same goes for the plot. You’re notebook may only have a single line to explain the idea but why spend all your time fleshing it out when you can just get on and write it.
I hope I don’t sound like I’m trying to impart my writerly wisdom on you all, because I really don’t have any. But this is how I think and if somebody else finds it useful too, then good.
If you’ve got your own methods, please feel free to let us all know how you work in the comments.