This is a two-part blog series extending on previous posts I’ve done about outlining. This one is going to focus on my outlining process for my current WIP, The Trinketeer, and then my friend Tanner is going to post about how he writes his novels.
Most of my regular readers probably know that I am pretty much a planner when it comes to writing. Tanner is a hard-core pantser; it was his idea to do this blog series. This way, you guys can get a little taste of what goes into both types of writing and find the one that works best for you.
My planning happens in four stages. The order in which I do the stages and how they come to fruition changes for each of my projects, but the basic principles stay the same. For the Trinketeer, my planning was as follows:
- Plot: If you’ve been a regular follower of my blog, you probably know The Trinketeer was originally meant to be a flash fiction piece based on the prompt given to me by my friend Leslie over at The Upstream Writer. I won’t tell you what the prompt was just yet because I want to save that for a bonus features post after I go through the beta process, which I hope to do by the end of the year :). Because it was only supposed to be a short piece, I completely pantsed what became the first three chapters. The first thing I thought of after I started writing was The Nutcracker. I couldn’t get the story out of my head. Little by little, I started tweaking the original story and adding pieces. Before I knew it, that tiny 1,000-word thing that I planned to finish and post on my blog within the month was quickly becoming a monster of a manuscript. In this case, I think the plot came first because I had a very loose base to work from. Once I had brainstormed a few ideas, I used the Hero’s Journey outline to get a basic sketch of the plot. Then it was time to come up with characters.
- Characters: I started by jotting down some notes about things that made characters from the ballet distinctive. The one that really ended up shaping the story for me was the toymaker, Drosselmeyer. If you’ve ever seen the ballet, you know that he is a minor character, but it’s his magic that makes the rest of the story possible. I brainstormed different ideas about how I could flush out the toymaker. I’ve always loved historical fiction, and this story didn’t seem to lend itself to a modern time period. Eventually, I decided to set it in the 1940s during the peak of World War II. Characters were added and taken away, and each of them was molded into something different and distinct from their original forms. I’m not going to say more than that because I don’t want to give away too much. My strategy was to take the barest facts of the ballet, and twist them and move them into something completely new that could stand on its own without needing the backdrop of a performance. To do this, I answered some questions from The 100 Most Important Things to Know about Your Characters. It helped me give them flaws and strengths as well as flesh out basic personality traits without having to think too hard to make them unique.
- World Building: This was probably the hardest part. I wanted the book to have a whimsical feeling with a dark, serious undertone and a little more substance than a utopian society where toys simply danced to welcome a human. In fact, the only inspiration I took from the original world of The Nutcracker is that ordinarily inanimate or abstract things would come alive. My world building process head four basic elements: History, Government, Society, and a Map. It keeps expanding even as I write the first draft. I have to say that developing the history was the most fun and easiest part for me because it tied in with the next and final step.
- Backstory: After I had the bare bones of the main plot, I had to go back and discover how my world and my characters came to be what they were. I had to ask myself questions like, Who were this character’s parents? Where did they live before the events of the book started? What are some important things that happened in their lives before the actual plot began? I stitched everything together from the questionnaires I had answered earlier, to the history of the new world that I created, so that each person was connected to the plot in a believable way.
And that’s my planning process :-). I hope this was helpful. Next week, my friend Tanner will talk about how he’s able to bang out 60,000-word novels without planning a single thing. Personally, I’m looking forward to reading the answer because I think that’s a great skill.