Writer’s World: Planning a Book (The Messy Truth)

Thought I’d share a bit more of my writing process with you as part of my “Writer’s World” blog theme.  Since I just turned in the manuscript for Dissonance, the next Blue Notes Series book, and am deep into the planning stages of the last Mermen of Ea Series book, Running with the Wind, what better thing to talk about than the planning stage of a story.

ive-got-my-thinking-cat-onEveryone plans differently. But I’m convinced that if you want a story with a real beginning, middle, and end, you need to do at least a little bit of planning. Which leads me to the question I’ve been asked a few times in blog interviews: are you a plotter or a pantser?

A plotter is someone who plots out their entire story before writing a word of it. Some plotters even outline complete scenes and chapters. A pantser is someone who writes by the seat of their pants (yeah, love that one!). I’m a hybrid.  I almost always have a broad scope outline of the story I’m about to write. Then I pants it from there, working my way through chapters without a detailed outline of what the chapter will be about.  I’ll talk about that in another blog post – how I pants once I’ve got the “bones” of a story.

So how do I create the bones (prepare to write, really)? I’ll use The Melody Thief as an example, since MelodyThief2LGit’s a standalone book not dependent upon any other plots (as opposed to my mermen books, the three of which are really one longer story). Keep in mind that The Melody Thief is more character than plot driven (something I’ll talk about in a later post), so this is my approach for those sorts of stories.

Step One:  Imagine the characters. Easy enough to say, for example, that Cary Redding (the focus of Thief), is a cellist. Okay, but that’s only a little interesting.  What’s more interesting? Figuring Cary out. What drives Cary? Who is he? Who will he be paired with to make the story interesting (i.e. create tension between the MCs)? Then I do the same thing with the second MS, in this case, Antonio.

Step Two: Figure out the primary conflict or, in the case of a character driven story, what the main character(s) path of growth will be. This is tricky. I’m not a fan of static characters who never change, but it’s hard to pull off a story where both characters change by leaps and bounds (at least in a single book). So I usually focus on one in particular to do the most changing. For The Melody Thief, that was easy. Cary would be the focus.  He’s the most messed up and in need of saving.  He is the “melody thief.”  By the way, this step usually determines what point of view I write in (a topic for another day).

Step Three: Figure out where the character’s growth starts and where I want him to end up. How do I take him from Point A to Point B in his personal journey?  In the case of Cary, he starts out a mess because of his crappy childhood and insecurities. He feels undeserving of the accolades he receives from his music, but he loves to play. Lots of internal conflict here. How does that manifest? In the form of an addiction to anonymous sex and fear of commitment (because who would want to commit to him, as undeserving as he is?).  Where I want him to end up? I know I want him to have a HEA and end up in a long-term relationship. I’m not exactly sure at this point what that looks like. This is where the pantsing part comes in much later, when I’m writing.

Step Four: Create the plot to hang the growth on (plot bunnies!)evil bunny.  In this case, Antonio as rescuer (literally, when Cary is mugged and Antonio saves his life), forces the two MCs together. Then give the two MCs some real life challenges they have to face together so that they are forced to grow. Without spoiling too much, suffice it to say that Cary’s past and Antonio’s son, Massimo, become those challenges.

Step Five: Create touchpoints.  Plot points, really, that I know I want to hit.  Cary lying to Antonio about who he is and the shit hits the fan moment when the truth comes out, for example. Cary having to choose between a life with Antonio and a life he’d always dreamed of as a kid. Antonio having to face his own demons when he realizes he may lose custody of his son. Last, but hardly least, the final scene that wraps things up.  Yes, I always know what the ending will be, even if all the details aren’t clear.

That’s it. The birth of a story. Messy? Yep. Is this everyone’s process? Nope. But it works for me with these character driven stories. More to come on some of the topics I’ve hit upon in this post. I hope you enjoyed it!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the process. Feel free to ask questions! -Shira


  1. Cody - Reply

    Great post, Shira. I would agree that the writing process is different for each author. I’m a panster all the way. That said, I do know (envision) the story I want to tell and, admittedly, do make a few notes… and I mean a few (as in less than 10). Then I think about it over the course of a few minutes and, once the movie begins to play in my head, it’s only a matter of putting it to paper. Once complete, I go back and sculpt the story by fleshing it (the story arc) and the characters (character arcs) out. All in all, 3 to 7 revisions per story. Again, great post!

    • shira - Reply

      Sounds like you do a lot of your planning in your head, from the way you describe it. Sometimes I “see” my movie, and sometimes I have to poke at it to make it move forward. Fascinating to see how different people work!

  2. Kari Higa - Reply

    I must have dreamt (is that how it’s spelled?) that I commented already.. After you start writing and all of a sudden, you feel like it’s going in a different direction than what was planned, do you stop and go through the process again? Or do you just keep on writing?

    • shira - Reply

      LOL Kari! And that’s a great question. It depends on whether the different direction is a plot issue or an overarching character growth issue.

      So, using “Thief” as an example again… Cary was supposed to leave with his father and go back to the US, but when I got to the point where he had to make that choice I knew (he told me in no uncertain terms) that he wouldn’t leave. He was still going to head toward where he ended up, growth wise, though. That was an easier change of direction that didn’t require starting from scratch. I only had to adjust the plot and figure out how to force him to grow through the relationship with his father while he stayed with Antonio in Italy. So basically, I just re-did step 4 going forward.

      If that sort of thing happens to the character growth, it’s trickier. When it happens at the beginning of writing a book, then I do start over. If it happens as the characters begin to develop in my mind, I usually just pants it and keep adjusting while keeping the same framework I started out with.

      I hope that made some sense! 😉

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