Planning Makes Perfect

Well, if not perfect, then at least progress. Faster, easier, smoother progress. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

I’ve started three different drafts of the story I refer to only as Amnesia Conspiracy on this blog. Each one failed for different reasons. Draft #1 had compelling character voices, but lacked any kind of plot. Draft #2 started in the wrong place. Draft #3 contained a weirdly retrospective voice that didn’t fit the story, among other issues.

When I lost interest in draft #3 around the 30k mark, I was kind of confused. Drafts #1 and 2 had involved much less planning time than I usually put into my stories, but I’d approached draft #3 in more or less the same way that I’ve approached everything else I’ve finished. I wrote up short character sketches, decided on a setting, and drew up a rough outline that spanned the length of the story I had in mind. I’m one of those writers who can’t work without an outline–I have to have some general idea where I’m going in order to get there.

I was totally stuck on Amnesia Conspiracy though, and I had no idea why. I blamed the plot for being too twisty and turny. I blamed my characters for being too flat and uninteresting. I blamed myself for not being talented enough to do the story justice. And then, when I finally sat down to work on draft four after five months of rewriting Facing the Music, I realized that the problem was actually my planning methods.

You see, I’m used to rewriting my manuscripts. If I like an idea well enough, I generally assume that I’ll do a couple different drafts before I figure out what approach I want to take. And frankly, that’s a horrible attitude to have about your own writing. Why rewrite a manuscript multiple times in a row when you can do the lion’s share of the preparation ahead of time, and write the very best version you can right from the start?

That’s why I’m taking a slightly different approach with Amnesia Conspiracy. Instead of drawing up basic, descriptive character sketches, I’m focusing a lot more on what each character wants, what’s motivating them, and how their motivations contradict. I’m drawing maps for a few different major settings, writing up short descriptions of others, and figuring out where all of my locations are in relation to each other. I have a detailed outline that lays out the events of the story as concisely as possible. And, because Amnesia Conspiracy is a mystery novel, I have lists of evidence and witnesses and clues that need to be included.

Every manuscript I’ve finished has been a learning experience, in more ways than one. Rewriting Facing the Music, for example, has given me an up close and personal look at what my weaknesses as a writer are. I don’t expect to conquer all of those weaknesses, or even most of them, in one draft of Amnesia Conspiracy. My only goal is to trouble-shoot as many possible problems as I can now, before I’ve put any actual words on paper. That way, I’ll be able to shorten the drafting process–not to mention finish a draft!–and dive into revisions.

Writing a novel is always an experiment, but I feel as though Amnesia Conspiracy will be more of an experiment than most. How well it goes is anyone’s guess at this point. I’ll be keeping you posted either way.

How do you approach your writing? Do your planning strategies work well, or have you had to change them at any point?


3 thoughts on “Planning Makes Perfect

  1. Motivations definitely are key to both character development and plot construction so that sounds like a good place to start.
    I generally just jump into writing once I have an idea, and if it seems worthy of pursuit (passes like a three or four page mark) then I’ll start figuring out backstory to characters, writing out notes on plots and themes, sometimes developing a little bare bones outline for the plot as a whole. I’m not much of a planner overall though, I tend to just dive in before I start over-thinking things.

  2. I’m always impressed by writers who don’t feel the need to plan their whole story start to finish. Your approach to writing sounds incredibly freeing, but also completely impossible for me personally. I love the idea of being more spontaneous in my own writing, but I find that it doesn’t usually help me to finish my stories 🙂

    Thank you for your comment and your input.

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