The other day, I started plotting my novel Smoke and Blood, the prequel to my debut novel Blood and Water. If you’ve known me longer than a few months, you know I’ve never been a big fan of plotting. Heck, while writing Blood and Water I even wrote a post detailing why I don’t outline anymore. But that was quite some time ago, and a lot has changed since then.
The biggest change has been that I am now a fan of plotting. A few people have commented that it seems like I wrote the first draft of Reflections faster than they expected, and that’s mostly due to that fact that I had the whole thing outlined. I used to be a die-hard pantser, and this strategy made a significant difference in my writing productivity. After Blood and Water, I was so sick of struggling and slogging through drafts. I needed a change. That’s why I started plotting.
It all started when I read Libbie Hawker’s book, Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing. This book changed my writing life. In a series of anecdotes and knowledge gleaned from personal experiences, Hawker provides tips for plotting a novel without losing your mind. That book, combined with this post by Rachel Aaron, made me view my process in an entirely different light. Based on what I learned from these wise ladies, here’s how I’m plotting my books going forward:
- Take note of what you know already. Whenever I get plot bunnies for a new book, I make sure to write them down in Evernote. That way, when it comes time to start plotting, I’m not starting from scratch.
- Find your characters. Rachel Aaron recommends, at a minimum, knowing your main characters, antagonists, and power players. Don’t get bogged down in character sheets right off the bat. All you need for now is names and some identifying details that are relevant to the story.
- Figure out the end and the beginning. Try deciding them in that order. Once you’ve discovered the end, it’s a lot easier to get there from the beginning. If you know the end, all you have to do is figure out how you’re going to get there.
- Determine the setting. Where and when will your novel take place? Consider some minor worldbuilding here, but like with the characters, make sure you don’t get too wrapped up in the specifics of this part.
- Fill in the gaps. If you have the beginning and the end of your novel down, all you have left to do is fill in the gaps. of course, this is much easier said than done. Focus on moving from one plot event to another, building a compelling, believable framework. Connect the major twists, scenes, and climaxes until you get to the conclusion. If you get stuck, don’t panic. That’s totally normal!
There you have it! Whether you’re a full-fledged plotter or a pantser looking for a better way to write, consider giving some of these techniques a try. If you’d like more information, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Libbie Hawker’s book. She goes into much more detail than I have in this post.
As the time this post goes live, I’ll hopefully have gotten through some of the plotting process for the Blood and Water prequel, titled Smoke and Blood. I’ve never written a series before–only standalone novels–but I’m optimistic. A lot of my readers have suggested I should make a series, and I do miss the virus-ridden kids in my debut book, so I thought it was a good idea.
Now, I’m a little anxious. I had no clue where to start. So, I sat down at my desk, drank some coffee, and make a plan. I felt better. I’m certain that part of this process will change, but it’s nice to have at least some idea where I’m going. Without further ado, here’s how I’m preparing to write a series.
- Making timelines. I didn’t make one of these bad boys before drafting Blood and Water, and it came back to bite me. When revising, I wanted to tear my hair out because I couldn’t figure out what happened when and who knew what at what time. This time around, I’m making a complete timeline for the prequel and the sequel, as well as an overarching series timeline for all the big events in the trilogy. That way, I don’t have to struggle so much with that nonsense when I go back and edit.
- Rereading Blood and Water. This one is a no-brainer. There’s so much information I dropped in that novel that I can use while drafting this one that it would be stupid not to go back and take some notes. While I am a little nervous (I haven’t read the novel since publishing it), it’s a necessary evil. It’s probably not as awful as I imagine it might be.
- Picking relevant scenes. While not having a timeline made the flashbacks in Blood and Water confusing for me at first, I’m so glad that I wrote them. Not only did they add depth to the world of they story; they also made it easier for me to outline some important scenes in the prequel. For example, I know I’m including the scene with Jay and Melanie at the museum that I mention in B&W.
- Reading The Hot Zone. Chris Mahan, among others, recommended this book to me. It’s about Ebola, which is fantastic, since that kind of hemorrhagic fever is what my virus is based on. I’m excited to dive in. I’m also taking notes, of course.
- Outlining. In addition to making different timelines, I’m also going to make a loose outline for both the prequel and the sequel, so that I can ensure all my loose ends will be tied up in the sequel. Again, I’m doing everything I can now to make things easier on myself come revisions. I used to be terrified of outlines, but I used one while drafting Reflections, and it saved my life.
- Drawing character maps. My writing is and has always been focused on my characters. With a series, one of the biggest challenges I’m facing is character growth. There’s no doubt in my mind that many aspects of these characters will change as the series progresses; I’m just not sure how much, in what ways, or why. That’s why mapping out some major changes in their personalities, goals, and relationships will help me so much moving forward.
- Worldbuilding. Since nearly every part of the characters’ lives is affected by the virus, I need to make sure that I fully understand it. In order to accomplish that, I need to come up with causes, symptoms, incubation periods, and things of that nature. Good thing I’m not squeamish.
Feel free to steal any of these ideas if you think they could help you in your writing process. Also, please let me know if you have any links/resources that could help me with this stuff. I’m slightly intimidated, but I love a good challenge. I’m ready now. Let’s do this.
What do you think? What tips can you give me for planning a series?
What tips do you have for planning a series? Take a look at @brianawrites’ preparation process. (Click to tweet)