Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Got a Plan?

We have our idea, we have done our homework and now it is time to write, right? Not quite. I can hear the groans. How can you be a writer, when you don't write! But there is a very fine difference between being an author and being a writer. And a large amount of that difference is in delivery.

This is a lesson that it has taken me a long time to learn. I understood the need for a diagram, brainstorming chart or outline when it came to writing papers in school. When it came to writing books, I always wanted to go where the story took me. Which is why I could never finish a story. Now I embrace having a map!

Readers don't want a wondering book. Readers want a story. In order for you to create a compelling story you have to know where it is going. Remember all that symbolism you learned about in English oh so many years ago? What? You thought that was just an accident that some people got that particular message out of a story after the writer wrote it? O.k., in some cases it probably was. But most great writers already know the beginning, middle and end of a story before they write it. That is how we get such great elements as foreshadowing, irony and red herrings. Writers who do not take the time to plan end up with plot holes that you could drive a mac truck through. Or worse, feeling cliche.

 There are so many different ways to plot out your story and every new writer must experiment with the different techniques. Eventually you will find which one, or which combination, works for you.

The most common form of pre-planning is called brainstorming. We have all done it since probably third grade. Remember all the little bubbles on the paper and you make the bubbles connect? Yeah, that is brain storming. Some call it mind mapping, others call it writing webs. But whatever you want to call it, the principle is the same. You start with your main idea and then you draw other ideas off the main idea. Then you connect the ideas with lines. It ends up looking something like this:

I have to be honest with you, I HATE brainstorming on paper. It drives me absolutely nuts!! I am a bit of a control freak and I tend to be a linear thinker. There is no control in this style of planning, which is what a lot of writers love about the process. You are just throwing ideas out onto paper to see where it leads you. I have a lot of very good friends who swear by this technique. I do something very similar in my own little head, but never have the chaos on paper.

You may find that this is the best way for you to do it as well. Or you may find that you do not like this step at all and would rather choose a different format. (We'll discuss those in other posts.) But make sure you try it often before you give it up. It is one of those techniques that takes a while to get the hang of before you can really determine whether or not it is useful for your own creative process. The idea of a brainstorming chart is that it is for you and you alone. It is not a way to present your ideas to others. If you can make sense of it, that is all that matters.

As I said, I tend to do this process in my head (I like to call it "fleshing out" my idea.) But in my head, I am basically doing the same thing, I just don't have to see the mess I make as it never ends up on paper! The more complex and detailed you can make your brainstorm, the more it will aid you in getting your book to paper. Here is a mind map that I could do for one of the stories I am currently working on.

Yup, see why mine never make it to paper?!?!?

What are your thoughts on mind mapping? What other pre-planning techniques work for you? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Is there a type of pre-planning technique that you have heard of, but don't really know how to implement? Let me know and I can add that to our topics to cover at this stage!

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