"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Writing Tip of the Week - Preparation

I've just started a new project if by started you mean I'm sitting at the computer working on it. This does not mean, however, that I've started typing prose. For the last few months, I've been playing with the story line and characters in my head, making notes on every idea that crops up, and continuing to think.
So this week, I started the actual work. In an excel workbook, I've created a separate worksheet for each character, created a plot worksheet, a list of locations for descriptions, miscellaneous facts, symbology worksheet, ...
I plan to take my time in this planning stage, and so far I have. And the good news is that I'm really starting to see ideas take form and build upon one another. It's exciting! But this is true with so many things in life. Spend the time up front, and it will make the job easier and better later on.
I looked around at a bunch of character worksheets, and then came up with one of my own. I wanted to add some things pertinent to my character(s) and take away others with nearly no relevance. I also think if I clearly map out each character's backstory, it will help me eliminate that from the actual book. Historically, I've had this habit of including a bunch of stuff better served as backstory right up front in the book, rather than just getting to the true plot.
So my motto for the week is:
Preparation = Perfection

How do you plan for a new project? How long do you stay in the prep. stage?


HipWriterMama said...

I like how you organize everything. I can see how the story progression is easy to follow.

I actually start off writing the first chapter, then start outlining like crazy. For some reason, I need to see something substantive taking shape before I feel comfortable creating my progression outline.

I'd like to try the spreadsheet method. While it sounds painstaking (spreadsheets -- all I'm thinking is number crunching and I'm getting a headache), I think it'll help me chart through the progression much easier. I may be picking your brain on this soon!

PJ Hoover said...

And some people don't outline at all! But I've gotta say, after this experience, I am a believer. Last night I was working on it, and researching stuff, and ideas were flowing great! Serendipity.
The spreadsheet is nice because all the information is in one place. I can copy and paste in pictures, and there's absolutely no number crunching involved except in my timeline calculations :)

Jim D said...

I'm not sure I can be that organized. I think it comes down to finding the process that works for you. Now, having said that, you have a book coming out shortly and I don't so there's a reasonable chance that I'm still searching for parts of the process. I think I might need to write that first chapter as hipwritermama suggested to get the feel of the book before doing a huge amount of planning, but think I might try at least a diluted version.

A counterquestion to you: With all the planning, do you expect your characters will do something unexpected and change things up from time to time as the words flow from your pen or keyboard?

Keep us posted on how the plan works as your MS progresses!

PJ Hoover said...

I totally expect (and HOPE) my characters will do something unexpected! I LOVE when this happens because it just makes them come to life completely - like they are living out their lives and I am simply recording it. How cool is that!
What does Stephen King say? If you don't know how you're going to end your novel, then that's good because the reader won't either :)

HipWriterMama said...

Just out of curiosity, do you end up planning out the whole book in the spreadsheet form before writing your book? And then changing it as you go along?

Or do you plan out to a certain point and then freeflow?

I just find this fascinating... It sounds so well organized like a fine tuned machine. Character worksheets. Symbology charts. Location List. Wow. You are truly highly evolved.


PJ Hoover said...

Hi Vivian,
On my trilogy, I didn't do nearly this amount of planning, and as things changed, I did not (or very rarely) went back and edited my notes on characters. And I did not edit my plot outline at all.

My goal for this new project is to do things right AND to update the spreadsheet as ideas change. Historically, this is the kind of thing that can take a backseat, but possibly by forcing myself to do it in the future, it will present even more ideas, or make me revisit other things which have fallen by the wayside.

But I do plan to plan out the whole thing first - at least up until a certain point. My goal is to start writing by June 1st. I think (and hope) my plot will change and improve as I get writing. Also, since these are totally new characters to me, I'll get to know them better.
Maybe what I should do is make revising the spreadsheet what I do before EVERY revision of the book I make.
Thanks for asking!

HipWriterMama said...

Thanks for explaining your process. I really won't be able to do this for any projects I have going on now...I'm too far in, and I think I would get too fixated on this for this stage. For the next project though, I think I'll start out this way and see how it goes.

Thanks again.