To plan, or not to plan: that is the question. In the past, my approach to writing a novel has mainly been to make it up as I go along. However, this has led to variable results.
In the worst cases, I struggled to spin a story out of my starting idea. I might have started with a great concept or an interesting character, but that spark didn’t ignite and the actual plot just fizzled out. With regret, I’ve abandoned those projects until I can figure out what was missing and try again.
In the best cases, I discovered amazing characters and worlds through the process of writing my story. When this happens, it is an exciting and inspiring way to write. I am eager to share these novels with the world, yet they remain in editing limbo. I am confronted by inconsistent characters and contradictory facts. There are interesting but irrelevant digressions to remove and storylines that need bringing into focus. Sometimes, it is hard to see the wood from the trees and the task seems insurmountable.
The strange thing is, the way I write short stories is completely different. In most cases I prepare a detailed proposal for consideration by an editor before I start writing. Despite moments when I wonder whether I can actually deliver the story as described, they have come together quite smoothly. What’s more, even within the confines of an outline I still sometimes find myself surprised by characters and plot developments I never anticipated. Having achieved some success as a short story writer, maybe it is time to apply the lessons from that work to my novel length projects?
It is two weeks until this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge begins. Last year I did something different and worked on new material for an old novel. It was a successful project, but I missed the opportunity to take a break from my existing projects to stretch my creative muscles and try out new ideas. So this year I plan to follow the traditional pattern of starting a new project on 1st November. However, instead of plunging in headfirst with a vague concept and a half formed character, I am trying to put together a proper outline first. It is hard work but, in the challenges presented by the process, I can already see I am overcoming problems that would have derailed me further down the line.
Only time will tell whether this approach to writing a novel works for me. I suspect I will miss the spontaneity of my old method, but I am excited to find out what sort of novel I can produce.
May your adventures be full
of mystery and magic