I am a man who likes to plan. For me, planning is what makes things happen, including my writing.
Unsurprisingly I like to plan when I write too. I've sort of evolved my own process involving three elements:
- character biogs- I add to these while writing as I 'discover' / make up more stuff about the characters
- a very rough beginning, middle and end- as in, a few sentences for each of these three bits
- scene plans on post it notes – 12 scenes to one piece of paper, usually about one post it ends up being 1000 words when written
This time, with Love U More, I wanted to mix it up a bit, see if I could be more of a pantser – someone who writes by the seat of their pants (or trousers if you're British) – basically writing without plotting. I had a character sheet, and some setting / timing stuff about the location and time frame the story is set in.
I wrote two diagrams for the story, the first piece of paper for the beginning diagram and the second piece of paper for the ending diagram. These were not detailed scene notes, these were words in bubbles linked by lines, all in pencil. (I can't, no matter how hard I try, plot on computer. The thoughts do not flow from my brain to my hands to the keyboard. Who knows why but I'm going with it.)
Here's some examples of the words in bubbles – I'm not giving away too many because, spoilers…
- Drugs / money / partying / Djing
- An after party that's at the Monday after the Friday night clubbing, and it's not fun any more. Skin crawling. X character is still dancing.
- X character works in record shop.
- Y character works in video rental shop.
- Trance music scene.
- Bad influence quote (there was more to it on the paper, but, you know, spoilers…)
This got me so far, then BOOM I stopped. I didn't know what was happening.
I plotted 5 Post it scenes about the first kiss, the first time they slept together, and some other stuff then BOOM I stopped. Ran out of plot. It was still too far from using the second rough piece of paper for the ending part.
I plotted another 11 post it note scenes – more detail about some of the stuff on the first piece of paper. I wrote those, then, you guessed it BOOM I stopped. I plotted another 17 post it note scenes, wrote them.
And then, and only then was I ready to write the second of the two diagrams I'd done at the start. Only, when I sat down to write there were two problems:
1) the words didn't flow
2) this ending I'd sort of planned was totally wrong for the story I'd by this point actually written. In fact I'd go as far as saying it was an omnishambles.
I cracked open a pack of Post it notes and started to work out how the final ¼ of the novel should end. You guessed it, BOOM, nothing.
I went for a walk, I read a bit, but still nothing.
I left it from then, Monday to the Friday without consciously thinking about how the story should end, just allowing myself to think about it if it popped into my mind, but not sitting down and thinking my way out of the problem.
Then, Friday evening after I'd finished the week of life, I sat on the bed - I think sitting in a different room and position from where I'd been before helped - and flicked through some of my favourite books involving clubbing / music and drugs – Rachel's Holiday, Disco Bloodbath and Sharking in case you're interested. I've read them all a long time ago so I reminded myself how each of them ended, reading the final 15 pages or so. Smiling, laughing, gasping along the way. I didn't take any notes, i just immersed myself in the world of these stories.
And then, I turned over the old ending sheet of paper so I couldn't see it anymore, so it wasn't taunting me with its omnishambles-ness on full beam, and on a new piece of paper I wrote words in bubbles, linked them to other words in bubbles and after about 45mins I'd filled the paper. I won't blog a picture of it, cos, you know...spoilers...but here's some of the words in boxes:
- X loses himself, and Y does too.
- The Friary.
- X gets a letter from Y, isn't sure what to do so they… - spoilers, sorry…
- Epilogue – the final scene appeared to me, so I quickly scribbled it down in a bubble.
Then I watched two rom coms, ate a curry and chocolate cherry ice cream, and went to bed.
Saturday morning and, you guessed it, BOOM, I woke, naturally, before 7am. I am a morning person, but at the weekend, this is not something I do. I felt as if I was bursting with words. I sat at the laptop – no internet, dance music in the background, character biogs to one side and the new ending page to the right and I wrote from 7am to 12.30pm. I had a walk, accidentally bought some more books, but any more of that's not for here, then 4pm to 6.30pm I wrote more and finally reached the end.
That final sheet of bubbles, words and lines ended up being 17,363 words, with no post it notes, it just flowed from the one sheet of words and bubbles.
So what have I learned from this?
- I don't think I'm ever going to be a complete pantser, I can't cope with a blank screen without some comforting scribbles in pencil on post it notes or loose paper in bubbles with lines. I just can't even…
- But for someone who thought he was a firm plotter, this gives me some comforting flexibility. And I welcome that.
- It was a new technique for me, plotting, writing, plotting, writing, etc. I normally prefer to do things in batches, get all one thing done, then move onto the next. But this worked as it meant the ending suited the story I'd actually written better than the original ending which didn't make sense then. So I've learned to mix up the technique, the process, even if you think you've got it all worked out, it's good to mix things up a bit.
- Originally, I had plotted the ending right at the start and was sort of plotting in the dark. I don't know why but I often leave plotting the final part until I've written nearer to it. I think it's because I want to close things off, tie things together, give the happy ever after I always want to read. And when I'm starting out on a project I'm not sure what the happy ever after needs to be until I've got to know the characters better, until I've told their story...or something.
- It means I can start writing something without knowing how it's going to end, and for someone like me who likes things planned out, at the start, that's really freeing. So that's what I'm going to do when I plot my next story out.