Plans Sometimes Go Awry

Even the best laid out plans don’t always go the way you want them. I have always strived to learn the best way to approach a task so that I can do it better and faster the next time around. As good-intentioned as that may seem, it can also be a tremendous waste of time. So, how do we fix this? What can we do to make things better for our future selves especially in the realm of creative writing? It turns out, there isn’t an easy answer.

The easy answer is just do it, but that isn’t entirely a good thing. I have been writing since I learned how to make the little scrawls on a sheet of paper. Nothing major, just bits and pieces here and there. I read racks and racks of books not really knowing if I loved doing it or just that there was nothing better to do at the time. I wanted to emulate what I read in those pages. I played Dungeons & Dragons in the hope that I could make my own adventure my way. So, I built the worlds, I even traversed them and then tried to write down my experiences. It worked for a while, but they were always bits and pieces. I tried my hand in the horror genre as well since my favorite author at the time was Stephen King. That wasn’t what I thought it would be. So, what should I have done? Back then, the only place to learn about the craft of writing was the library, but I didn’t have the mobility to go there by myself and nobody seemed to want to take me there. I just flailed a bit until I did have the means, but by that time, I had other interests in life that took me in different directions. Then, life happened. I got married and had kids and my time was consumed by adulting. One day, after I began reading the Harry Potter series so I could read them to my children, my penchant for writing sparked once more. Then the Internet became available. My eyes were once again open to the chance of actually publishing something, but now the question lingered…How? My answer was I just did it.

As writers, we know there are two basic types. Pantser and Planner. By just doing it, I inadvertently fell into the pantser realm. At the time, it suited me fine. I didn’t know any better. I also didn’t know anything at all. That being said, I don’t want to discourage those who are pantsers, because it’s usually whatever works. For me, at the time, it did work. I was able to finish my very first draft ever of what would eventually become Copper Rain. It was a horribly disjointed mess of scenes and action that didn’t quite coincide with the overall plot. But I did it. My goal was achieved, so to speak. Unfortunately, it took another seventeen years or so to actually get my baby published. Well, I self-published, but it is still published.

For the next project, I wanted to do some major planning. Like every single detail was going to be planned out to the letter. I had read books by Terry Brooks and even his own book on writing (Sometimes The Magic Happens), and decided that was what I was going to do with the second book in this outrageously long series I had planned (don’t worry, over time I had cut it down to three novels instead of the ten that were planned). So, my journey in planning had begun. It was really fun. I enjoyed expanding with world I created with the first novel. I delved into the lore of the empire and all the kingdoms that belonged to it. I created a deep history that made it seem alive. I had eight more worlds below the surface created by gnomes. I spent way too long on this. I think three years? See where I am going with this? I went too far down the rabbit hole with every single detail. So, how much do you think I got done with my second novel? Actually, I got the cover and very little of the words. Actually, coming off the heels of finishing my first novel, I continued with the second on a different character in a different setting and realized that I probably should have included my main character from Copper Rain. I tried to shoehorn him in, but it, too, became a horribly disjointed mess, so I scrapped it entirely. I did keep all the characters from it, but slightly different. Anyway, back to my attempts at planning. I wrote a fully fleshed out outline of the novel I am currently writing. Guess what? Nothing of what I planned is actually in it so far. Granted, there are new characters and new ideas, but what I had meticulously laid out on all the software I could get my hands on for this purpose dissipated like fog on a hot day. Poof! Years of work, planning, scheming, all of it. Gone. Well, not truly gone. I have the lore in the back of my mind and things were adjusted, but I haven’t touched my outline or even referred to it since I started the first draft of what I am currently doing now.

While it is not a total waste of time, I would like to submit that I’m certain there were better ways to reach the point I am without having spent three years or more doing. Looking back on when I wrote the original draft of Copper Rain and the subsequent drafts, I realized why I was able to get to the point where I thought Copper Rain was publishable. I didn’t plan nor exactly write it by the seat of my pants, either. What ended up happening was a hybrid of both.

This time around (I am currently at the midpoint of the novel, by the way), I made a rudimentary skeleton of an outline. This approach was two-fold (at least). On one hand, it was simple and, therefore, quickly made. This became important when I realized that I really didn’t stick with my outline anyway. Knowing that, it started to become increasingly obvious, through other projects as well, that I was just spinning my wheels and getting absolutely nowhere fast. For the second point, I know I can change and adapt my rather small outline to the whims and fancies of the moment when I am actually writing my novel. I figured since I was ignoring my meticulously crafted outline, why not roll with it. So, lesson learned.

What do I do now? I am glad you asked.

I use a hybrid method of fleshing out my stories. Part snowflake method, part Save the Cat! method, part planner method, part pantser method all jumbled into something that I can quickly create and adjust in the throes of creation. All this so I can get to what I really want to do, get writing!

To start, I write a paragraph of what I think the story will be about. This will have at least five sentences and they will consist of a short introduction to the story, meaning who will be in it, what are they doing at the beginning, and, more or less, what it going to break their status quo. I can either put specifics, if I know them, or general info about the main character (MC). Another sentence will be about what happens after things get rolling up to the point where the MC has no choice but to enter the main story conflict. The point of no return, if you will. The next sentence will be about what happens from that point until the MC realizes how to go on the offensive against the antagonist. The fourth sentence will be about what happens after the midpoint and take us all the way to the point where the main conflict comes to a head and the MC directly confronts the antagonist. Finally, the last one ties everything up on how the MC defeats the antagonist and what happens afterward.

If you notice, it closely resembles the Three Act structure, it rudimentarily touches on the Inciting Incident, the First Plot Point, the Midpoint, the Second Plot Point (or Third Plot Point if you consider the Midpoint as the second), and the Resolution. After that has been done, I want to fill in more details since a lot happens between the First Plot Point and the Midpoint and the Midpoint and the Second Plot Point. There are two Pinch Points that spice things up a bit.

With the first paragraph written down, I like to split it up into five separate sentences. Now, I add a sentence between the First Plot Point and the Midpoint. This will be my first pinch point. This sentence will basically go over how the MC will meet the antagonist. Then, I add another sentence between the Midpoint and Second Plot Point. This will be the Second Pinch Point. This is where the MC was winning at everything up to that point and the antagonist has found something that causes the MC’s confidence (overconfidence?) to falter and where the antagonist really shows off his power and starts winning.

Now that I have those key points, I would like to add at least two more just before the Second Plot Point. The first one will be something that happens that causes the MC’s world to come crashing down. Everything falls apart, if you will. The lowest of the low has happened to the MC, perhaps all the friends leave, whatever it may be, it needs to be devastating. The next sentence will be what I have seen called the Dark Night of the Soul. This sentence will discuss what the MC does after his apparent total failure and who/what help them to come to the resolution of the story.

Armed with these nine sentences, I can now add them to my favorite word processor (I use Scrivener). These can be the headings or descriptions of scenes. I usually start out with at least 40 scenes since that makes 5 scenes between the point (except the Everything Falls Apart and Dark Night of the Soul–I set them as two scenes before the Second Plot Point). For example, Scene 5 would be the Inciting Incident, Scene 10 would be the First Plot Point, Scene 15 would be the First Pinch Point, Scene 20, of course, would become the Midpoint, Scene 25 becomes the Second Pinch Point, Scene 28 is the Things Fall Apart, Scene 29 is the Dark Night of the Soul, Scene 30 is, therefore the Second Plot Point, Scene 35 is the Climax and Scene 40 is the Resolution.

This is just a preliminary outline using scene cards at this point. Keep in mind, the rest of the scenes in between the key one can and will change as you write your story. You will have to go and adjust your rudimentary outline as you come up with newer, better storylines or ideas for scenes. By keeping your outline small, you can easily adjust without feeling like you’ve just wasted your time carefully crafting every little detail. The added bonus here is that it allows you to shift rapidly from developing your story to actually writing it while maintaining the flexibility to change as you gain new insight into your characters and the settings around them.

I know it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted, but I certainly hope you found this information useful and I will try to keep adding more useful insights as I go along. Keep moving forward and enjoy your writing sessions instead of dreading them. As always, happy writing.


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