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Planning close to the road


Article Team
There's planning that happens there, where one casts one's eye along the length of visible road, somewhere between steering the car and consulting the map.

Well, I do sort of do have a couple of intermediate like steps. But I usually do them after the novel level and scene level sketches. I use Dan Well's seven point plot structure to plan out each subplot for the characters that have them, which for me is below the novel level but above the scene level. And then just right before I write the scene, I do an in-depth outline of that scene in point form, not just listing what happens but things to keep in mind like theme and what subplots get weaved in and advanced. Now as I'm actually writing the scene out, I may find I can't fit everything I want in, so those things I miss may get pushed ahead into the next scene or the scene after that. OR I might have to go back and redesign/rethink the scene to fit stuff in.
I develop my story on three levels. At the highest level I outline my whole novel. This happens before I start writing. I plot the different chapters, in order, with a sentence or two describing what happens in the chapter.

With that done the writing process starts. Before I start working on a specific chapter I plan out that chapter. This happens in a lot more detail. Where the novel level outline doesn't go beyond "X happens", the chapter description goes into detail on what the characters do. This normally takes a few paragraphs.

The third part is actually writing the chapter. There is still discovery in this stage and plotting involved. A character says something, which changes the direction of events. They run into an unforseen obstacle I now have to work around, etc.

All these three events feed into each other. As I write a chapter I learn about my characters, which impacts the overall plot. They develop a certain trait or have a slightly different character arc, which means the story changes. Planning a chapter takes into account what happens next, but it also changes what happens next. Sometimes you create different problems which need to be resolved later, or you notice you don't need a certain plot-arc, which needs to be removed from the story (both going forward and in what has already been written).

In my experience, this means that my high level outline tends to function for the first half or so of the book. After that, the actual tale deviates more and more from the outline. Which is fine, since by then I'll have a good grasp of the story and of what the ending will be like. It means chapters get deleted or added, or just shuffled around. People present in chapters change, and the resolution might be different. So all in all, though I do have a structured outline and process, the reality is that it's a lot more fluid than you'd think at first glance.


toujours gai, archie
Good stuff from Penpilot and Prince of Spires. Both speak directly to that intermediate level. I can envision there's maybe a layer up--say, looking a few chapters as a whole. Maybe that's looking at the level of an Act (however many you are using). Or, to use a different approach, looking from here to the next waypoint. I can see planning to that level, even if it's only to encompass themes, subplots, character arcs, without blocking out specific scenes.

I'm going to have a go at that. I have my heroes through their first dead bodies and now it's a question of what happens next and where the next crunch point lies. Right now, that feels both vague and flexible. I have a clear idea where and how the novel ends, who winds up where, and so on, so I think I have good context for this intermediate level.