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Everyone Plans, Right?

Let's get this out in the open...I love planning. LOVE IT! Lurve it to death. I really know no limits: Drawing garden plots on graph paper... Scheduling my trips..(ooh! and making packing lists for said trips) Creating honey do lists for my husband...Throwing together parties...you get my drift.

And when I write? I am a planner there, too! Imagine my surprise when I found some authors just start writing and see where it goes! What? No well-crafted synopsis? No synchronized time line? No neatly charted plot diagram? To me that would be like starting to drive to through the back streets of London without a map.

Here are some of my favorite writing planning strategies and a little story about my recent forays into the land of serendipity.

In a novel involving travel, I combined a couple of ideas to keep me on track and provide inspiration. I used topographical maps and a plot line that involves action points according to the character's movements. I used Google maps to see time and distance traveled from point A to B. One of the cool features is that you can see how long it would take to drive or walk the distance. This is especially valuable if you can't go there and research it until after that section has been written. (After I visit the site I go back and add details and imagery to enhance the setting.)

Another book revolves around professional sports. To help plan this one I downloaded the competition schedules from the sports association's website, plugged the dates into a calendar and overlapped it with individual area competitions. It helped me see the relationship between the invitationals, school vacations, and weather patterns. I did attend some competitions before beginning writing, but I also watched player interviews on sports websites and youtube to get their language cadence and slang. Before I started writing I knew which major competitions happened on which dates, in what area, and the mode of travel/time necessary to get to each event.

A third technique I used in a mid-grade novel set in a small community school. Here I combined maps, a school schedule, a hand drawn map of the main character's neighborhood, and a sketch I made of the fictional middle school. The planning went monthly by school schedule, with the plot points having to fall around pivotal events in the school year. These I know well since I am a 7th grade teacher, but if you don't have a connection, most school websites have calendars posted. Since the story had many threads, I needed to create a class schedule for the main character and her three friends so I could track their movements in the school - knowing when they would cross paths or be unable to communicate.

Although this might seem intensive to those who choose to let their muse's tug pull them through the process on gossamer threads, it really isn't as a lengthy process as it seems. You can download schedules and maps in one night and then over the next day or so, come up with a scratch outline or plot list. Post it all near your writing spot or keep them open in the background on your computer. If you run into a snag, you can consult your plans to help you find your way through the dark forest and to your journey's end.

I hope that you might find an idea or two you can use here...even if you decide to go the less formal route. That type of writing can be fun and surprising. Once a character slipped and hurt herself in an unplanned scene that seemingly popped out of nowhere. It didn't change my goal, but did muddle her path (in a good way!). Another time a character remembers something from her past I hadn't counted on and it caused her to not finish her test in time. It didn't detract from my plan, but gave it added depth. I embrace serendipity, and can take a detour in my travels, but enjoy the solidity of having my route mapped out for me.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 1st, 2009 11:59 am (UTC)


And I also think I hate you just a tiny bit.

Oh, okay...I'm just kidding. And really that timeline of where everyone was at what time DID help me get moving again on the mystery. This is a great post - I'm bookmarking!
Jul. 1st, 2009 12:06 pm (UTC)


Seriously, I've TRIED to plan, but I become both bored and blocked almost immediately. I just don't KNOW anything about the characters or the place until I start writing. Anything I "plan" seems like an arbitrary decision, and carries no conviction. I wish I wish I wish I were like you and could be all organized -- but the truth is, I get so much more writing done ever since the day I realized that it wasn't Writer's Block I had, it was Planner's Block!
Jul. 1st, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
Um, not a planner. At all.
But it was great to meet you! And I'm friending you.
Stay inspired!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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