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The Planning of Novels and Expeditions

May 24, 2011

I think I’m nearly ready. June 1st is my current “deadline” to finish prewriting and start the actual writing of my current work-in-progress (which I’m sure will eventually acquire a code name of some sort). It feels strangely like I’m finalizing the details of an Everest attempt.

As long-time readers know, the novel-writing process as a journey is a metaphor of which I’m quite fond. I think it does help to make things seem a bit more concrete- it’s easier to accomplish tangible tasks (or so I find). And honestly, it’s fun to think of the writing as an epic quest in itself.

Whether you’re setting out for far-off lands literally or figuratively, a plan is a good thing. Scuba divers have a saying, “Plan the dive and dive the plan.” Here’s mine:

Know your route

Usually, you know your start and end points. It’s the stuff in the middle that gets hazy. Have a map. I tend to have a list of plot points to serve as “landmarks.” Do I always know how to get from landmark to landmark? No. And sometimes that lets me discover really cool detours and diversions along the way.

Is it enough to tell me when I’m lost? Mostly. And it’s certainly useful for keeping track of how far you’ve come and how far you have to go.

Pack Accordingly

I always envy light packers. Lugging an overstuffed suitcase up and down staircases is not fun. However, it’s hard to go too light- freezing because you forgot your sweater is no picnic either.

Same goes for prewriting and worldbuilding. You can’t go too light, or you won’t have the details on hand when you need them. But if you “overpack,” you may never actually start. Perpetually adding “just one more thing” to your story bible may be as useful as tossing in a parka for your trip to Hawaii.

Know your travel buddies

It’s a good thing to know whether you can get along with your travel companions before you start out. While the open road always holds surprises, you can mostly tell ahead of time whether a particular person is one you wouldn’t mind sharing a tent with. Likewise, you should have a pretty good grasp of your characters. Of course they can turn around and surprise you partway through- that’s part of the fun. And, just like running into fellow travellers at hostels, you’ll pick up new people along the way. 

I like to know the main characters fairly well before I start out… and know that they’re people I’ll be able to live with every day for months on end. 

Onwards!

-Arvik

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2 comments

  1. I’ve heard writing a novel compared to driving across the country at night–we only get to see what little our headlights reveal in front of us. Like you, I need a roadmap to show me where I’m going and the feeling of freedom to head in a new direction when I wish.


  2. Is the novel you’re about to write an epic? That will make the analogy even more cogent.

    I envy you working on a new project. I’m still in rewrites on my little middle grade novel with chapters farmed out to alpha readers as we speak. This part is fun, but nothing beats the next new project.

    — david j.



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