How to Write a Novel – The Strict Pre-Planner

How to write a Novel Strict Pre-PlannerLast week, we talked about writing by the seat of your pants and how intuitive this method of writing is. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, here are the links.

This week, we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum: Pre-planning.

What Pre-Planning Looks Like

Pre-planning has many faces. For the sake of this week’s discussion, I’m focusing on the writer who does absolutely no writing until they’ve answered every question they can think of.

A strict pre-planner may spend weeks or months mapping out their story. They may have story boards and charts and lists and summaries enough to make NASA envious. They know enough about their main characters to write a biography and they often know their secondary characters inside out, as well.

Plot points major and minor have been identified and made as strong as possible.

They’re even likely to have written a complete chapter outline with scene descriptions for the novel from beginning to end.

In short, they’ve written thousands of words before they ever write the first line of the novel.

Pre-Planning Methods

A lot of pre-planners use a method first described by Randy Ingermanson and known as the snowflake method. This was my first introduction to pre-planning and although I now use a hybrid method (which I’ll talk about in lesson four), this is still the most familiar.

The snowflake method is ten steps.

  1. Sentence summary
  2. Paragraph summary
  3. Character storylines
  4. Page summary
  5. One-page description for each main character
  6. Four-page summary
  7. Expand character descriptions
  8. Scene Worksheet
  9. Write a narrative of the entire novel
  10. Write the novel

Characters and plot are developed side-by-side.

Outlining is another way to pre-plan, although it’s usually just one tool among many.

With an outline, you begin with a list of major points. They could be plot points (aka turning points or squeeze points) or they might be scenes.

That outline is then expanded step by step until as many of the questions have been answered as can be.

Outlines may be a series of short, sketchy sentences. They may also be so well fleshed out that they turn into narrative summaries.

The reason outlining is usually just a tool in the pre-planner’s toolbox is that it’s difficult to develop characters with an outline.

Another way to pre-plan is to use specially designed software. I’m not talking about CAD packages, but about writing software such as Scrivener, Write It Now, and others, that allow the writer to pre-plan and organize plans.

Advantages to Pre-Planning Your Novel

Pre-planning gives the writer an opportunity to try different things with characterization, plotline, story arc, and all the other thousands of things that go into writing a successful novel. It’s a way to get an idea for what works and what doesn’t without wrestling with the finer points of novel writing at the same time.

Pre-planning can also happen in the background while the writer is working on another story. If the writer does a lot of mental work before putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, it needn’t interfere with whatever writing is taking place in the foreground.

Sometimes, spending a week pre-planning is all that’s needed to reveal the weakness of a story idea. If so, it’s a week well spent and the writer can move on to another idea.

Disadvantages to Pre-Planning Your Novel

For a lot of writers, taking time to pre-plan wrings all the energy out of an idea.

There is also the risk of developing a narrative-summary-and-done mindset. I confess to having this problem. There have been times when I’ve felt like there’s nothing more to do with the story by the time the narrative summary has been written. It’s “good to go” and I move on. Of course the work is only just beginning, but if you’re this type of writer, you might want to steer clear of excessive pre-planning.

Another major disadvantage is that no story happens in a vacuum. You might spend weeks rounding out characters, developing story lines, and writing a chapter outline only to discover halfway through novel writing that your characters have a different idea. There goes all that planning! Out the window!

Although no writing time is ever wasted, that can be frustrating when it happens.

You don’t have to pre-plan extensively to make pre-planning work for you. The trick is finding the right combination of pantsing and pre-planning to work with the story you want to tell and your personality as a writer.

For the last two lessons, we’ll take a look at a couple of ways to write a novel hybrid-style. Next week, I’ll talk about Danielle’s method, then we’ll close the series with a description of my writing method.

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