In my last three posts I made several claims regarding the merits of being a planner:
- You don’t have to start your stories at the beginning,
- You can avoid writing yourself into corners,
- You can evaluate several story paths and choose the best options,
- It is easier to add layers and depth of meaning to your stories,
- It is easier to adjust the flow and pace of a story.
- You get to know your characters better before you start writing.
Find the first three parts here:
- Writing advice: Planners vs. Wingers – Be a Planner, Part 1
- Writing advice: Planners vs. Wingers – Be a Planner, Part 2
- Writing advice: Planners vs. Wingers – Be a Planner, Part 3
This post elaborates on the last of these claims.
You get to know your characters better before you start writing.
Plotting helps character development in two important ways:
- It helps you create plot points that manufacture the character changes you want.
- It makes you understand your characters.
I sometimes see this in TV shows where a character’s reactions seem out of sink with what just happened. The author needed a character to change in a certain way to move the plot forward, but they did not provide an effective catalyst to change the character in that way. The story superseded the character development. Plotting can help avoid these issues. Done correctly, the story grows from the character development, not the other way around.
If you start with plot points A and C, where C is the character as he or she is changed and A is how the character starts out, then plot point B only exists to create that change. If the change is particularly profound then you either: a) need plot points B1, B2 and B3 to make the change believable; b) need something extreme to cause such an extreme change. Both lead to compelling stories for your audience to witness.
For this to work, you must know your characters. Conversely, if you do this well you can’t help but get to know your characters. Each plot point becomes a snapshot of a moment in a character’s life. You get to understand how their behavior is unique and what motivates them in that moment. Characters are the heart of any story. The better you know them, the more authentic they become.
I’m sure most authors plan a little. Just like planners do their fair share of free-writing. Often you need to free-write for a while before the big picture can form. Staring at walls and daydreaming will not get the job done (though, I do a bit of that also). I call that initial writing throwaway material. Sometimes I keep it. Mostly I don’t.
What I do isn’t overly formal. I simply stop periodically and see how the pieces fit together so I can concentrate my daydreams on the holes. I continue this cycle of free-writing and analysis until I feel the story has a full structure. Only then do I officially start the first draft. I will elaborate on this further in a future post.
That’s it for planning. Hopefully I’ve given you enough reasons to give it a try. It takes a bit of self-discipline but I think it’s worth the effort.
Next post, I plan to cover self-editing with purpose where I will outline the systematic way I edit my own work.
If you like this, post check out some of my others: