Preparation is Three-Quarters of the Battle
But, and this is a big but—when the time comes for me to commence said throwing, I will know exactly what I’m going to take. (Okay, because I’m a terrible packer and a confirmed right-brainer, there will be last minute changes and additions.) Because I’ve been thinking about what I need to take clothes-wise, book-wise, and technology-wise all month.
Chance favors the prepared mind. And the prepared packer. And the prepared writer.
At least I think so.
I know there’s an endless debate between pantsers and plotters. (For the record, a pantser is one who flies by the seat of his pants when writing, and a plotter is one who plans everything out.) And, seeing as how I have a completely somewhat loose approach to organization and house cleaning and the like, you would think I would fall down on the side of pantsing.
But I have learned through many years of experience that when I pants, I get into trouble. Not that I don’t love it, because I do. What could be better than allowing your mind and fingers to ramble down shady lanes and sunny byways in strange worlds? But the key word here is ramble, because that’s exactly what I do. Ramble along with no worry for the strictures of plot or character. Or showing a cohesive setting. Or anything but my rambles.
And one cannot write a novel without worrying about plot or character or setting. Or one can, but one will need to do a lot of rewriting when one is done. I do love rewriting—but not when I have to figure out how to make a shapeless lump into a story.
So, I plot. And write up character dossiers. And draw maps of locations and diagrams of houses and offices. I call all of this prep work and I actually enjoy it. Sometimes I think I enjoy it too much, as I can get so engrossed in it that I never quite get to the writing of the novel.
It occurred to me, as I pondered what clothing I should take to Europe, that it might be helpful to share what I consider to be the bare minimum of novel prep work, because it’s been awhile since we discussed this. So here you go (and remember this is a minimum. You can do a lot more if you wish):
Character Dossiers. I fill them out for all of my main characters and do at least the rudiments (appearance, personal traits) for the minor ones. Because all story starts with character, this is time well spent and often helps me come up with plot ideas as well. It is also helpful to know who is going to tell the story and if it will be in first person or third.
Setting Sketches. I need to be able to see where my character lives and works. This goes for big setting, such as the overall city she lives in, and small setting, such as her home and office.
A Loose Outline. And by loose, I mean loose. I’m not one of those people who plans out every single beat and action and character thought. I do like to leave some room for surprises. A simple list of potential happenings will do.
Really that’s it. I know, you don’t see research on the list. That’s because, like technology, I’m on a need-to-know basis with it. When I don’t know how to do something on my computer, ask the Google How do I do _______________ ? I always get a quick answer. Same thing with research. At least for the first draft you do not want to get mired in a lot of facts you might not really need. (And if you’re writing an historical, my hat’s off to you. And you’ll need to do a lot more research.)
Since I just finished my rewrite, I’ll be prepping a new novel myself soon. Can’t wait.
While I have you, are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages of your approach?
Photo from Wikipedia.