I thought I’d put some of the chapter planning notes I make online. There’s no tips or advice because who the hell am I to do that, this is just to put it out there as I haven’t seen anyone else do this so thought it could be interesting.
Reading blogs and magazine articles featuring the writing process from many different authors, you get a wide range of advice about planning from ‘I totally wing it‘ to ‘I mercilessly plan and research every detail before I even crack open the laptop‘.
I’m kind of in the middle. I can’t start without a basic theme or a general direction I want to head into. After I got that, I research the theme and tentatively create characters and situations to convey some sort of central theme and direction. Once that’s done then I usually only plan a few chapters in advance. This is so I a) know the chapter I’m currently writing, b) know how the current chapter will lead into the next and c) leaving more advanced chapters unchallenged means the novel has the flexibility to go where the story dictates.
I’ve only completed one novel and about a fifth of the way through the second (5 chapters/11,500 words), but so far I find that their story arcs arrive in about 5 or 6 chapters chunks. I’m currently at the end of the first chunk of ‘Broken Branches’. I suppose this is the introductory chunk; introducing the main themes, the characters and their dilemma’s.
So what do the notes look like?
Here’s my planning for the 2nd chapter of Broken Branches;
Not much but then I don’t want to take the fun and serendipity out of it. Just making a few notes on the key points I want to hit.
Remember, this is also backed up in my mind and in other notes by research and thinking through various plot ideas, situations, character traits, etc which I’ll decide to sprinkle in as and when.
If you think this is brief then check out what I wrote for the first chapter of Railroaded (which you can read here);
Not much going on there but this first chapter is different because I’d done a lot of thinking and research before taking the plunge plus I also had a false start so I knew what I didn’t want to do.
Now here’s the real illegible part and why I could never do this stage on a computer. The planning for chapters 9, 10 and 11 of Railroaded;
One advantage of planning a few chapters ahead is that you can get a birdseye view of the forthcoming part of the story. So above, I’ve looked at it and thought 11 and 12 are not enough in themselves, why not merge them?
There’s also a chunk in 10 which I thought would be better in 11. Without seeing these notes first I’d have to find out these problems in the actual text and then resent rewriting it all. The old adage seen plastered in meeting rooms across the land of, ‘Failing to plan, is planning to fail‘ is true!
So if you write, how do these notes compare with yours?