George R.R. Martin once said there are two types of writers: architects and gardeners. He identified himself as a gardener. He knew what type of seed he was planting, but he didn’t know how the final product would turn out until he finished. The two writing styles have also been described in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) circle as being a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants - minimal planning and a lot of imagination) and a planner. All of this is to say that of the two writing styles, I’m an architect. I’m a planner.
I tried writing two books in the past without planning and none of them turned out well. My first one made it to two pages long before I ran out of ideas. My second one made it to eleven pages, but the story was so depressingly scant of life that I had to close the doors on that one too. It comes down to a case of writer’s block where I can’t figure out how to continue the story to meet my end goal.
Last year, for NaNoWriMo, I completed my first book (which you can buy here). It took two weeks of planning, and then the writing began. The planning process was equally as difficult as the writing process but it made writing easier because when it came time to actually writing I knew what I wanted to feature in the story. I’m following the same process now as I write my second novel, and this is my process: I write my story four times.
Four times? That’s a lot of times to write a novel. Yeah, it is, but it’s in varying degrees of detail. Let me walk you through my process.
Step 1: Post-It Draft
This is the most raw form of my story. I write it out in a note-taking app on my phone. I use Google Keep, but you can use anything else. Most of the time it’s a few stream of consciousness thoughts that capture the main idea of the story. I try to keep it to about a paragraph or two in length. Want an example? Here’s Lord of the Rings in Post-It Draft form.
“Story about a guy who gets a magical ring - or the ring has powers or something. He travels across the country with his best friend to destroy it and probably along the way meets up with a bunch of warriors who help him in the quest. Bad guy wants to stop the main guy from destroying the ring and sends an army after him”
It’s really rough. But it captures the main idea/plot of the story.
Step 2: Long Draft
The Long Draft is where I start to work in subplots and characters. Around this time I create separate sheets for the big characters. The character sheets usually contain a few paragraphs about their history, personality, looks, and their relationship to the main character(s) and the story. If they’re minor, they get lumped into the minor character sheet.
The Long Draft is the first “real” look at the end product. It can range in length from a page, to ten pages depending on the project. My second book, which I’m currently writing, has a long draft of somewhere around 15,000 words. The main locations where the story takes place are explained.
Step 3: Detail Draft
The Detail draft is a bigger expansion on the long draft. Where the long draft was mainly plots and subplots, the detail draft includes incorporates and expands on it all. This is essentially the novel in point form. Where the main character goes, who they meet, what they talk about, how events makes them feel. It’s the last draft before the official “first draft” of the novel gets written, but by that time it’s been written in varying degrees of detail three times.
This draft is what I refer to when I write the book. This is my road map.
Step 4: First Draft
Weird that I’d name the last step “first”, but this is the first full readable version of the manuscript I’ll eventually have edited and published. All the points in the Detail Draft are sewn together, dialogue is added, and the story is written. It can be a long process to get here, but it’s ultimately worth it. All the hard work in the planning stages pays off when it comes to write, because now you know what you’re talking about and filling in the blanks becomes a lot easier.
The steps of expansion I take for planning my stories has helped me develop deeper plots and characters and allowed me to map out my work flow. Knowing what I’m going to say before I put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) gives me confidence in my writing. Many writers complain about writers block when it comes to penning a novel. My plan so far hasn’t failed me because I already have the foundation laid out when I go to write.
Feel free to borrow my plan and mold it to whatever works best for you. Good luck!