Happy New Year, and welcome to my first Author Toolbox Blog Hop post of the year! The hop is hosted by Raimey Gallant. Each month authors come together to share useful tips and advice.
This month I’m posting the results of an experiment I started last October: The Pantser Plots series. How does a self confessed pantser fare when they try to plan instead?
For NaNoWriMo 2017 I planned out a project based on Merlin and Arthurian legend. I’ll compare this project to my NaNoWriMo 2016 project, Dragonspire, which was unplanned.
Planning. The good stuff:
I didn’t lose enthusiasm:
My biggest fear was that knowing where a story was going would decrease my enthusiasm for my project before I’d begun writing it. My fears were unfounded. If anything having a plan made me even more excited to start writing. Don’t let this fear put you off trying planning!
Chapter word counts were better:
The first chapter of my Merlin story is 4309 words long, a reasonable length for a first chapter. The first chapter of Dragonspire was 8793 words, far too long. Dragonspire’s chapters are all 7000+ words, with a couple of monsters over 10000. The longest chapter in Merlin is 7025 words, but most are around 5000. Planning made my chapters focused and concise.
I’ve since rewritten Dragonspire chapter one. It’s completely different, and over half the length at 4078 words. Merlin won’t need a complete rewrite, so planning makes for less work. If I’d planned Dragonspire in the first place it might not need a rewrite now!
Dialogue was more concise:
Planning improved my dialogue. Each conversation in my NaNo 2017 project was well thought out and advanced the plot. In Dragonspire’s first draft my characters talked too much, and half of those conversations added nothing to the story. Without a plan I wrote whatever came to mind whilst I figured out what happened next. With a plan I didn’t have this issue.
Characters were better developed:
When I started Dragonspire I only planned my main character, Arckia. I added other characters as I wrote, but these characters weren’t well developed. I didn’t even have a good idea of the villains, who were non existent until they appeared in chapter 7!
When I planned for NaNo 2017 I listed good characters, villains, and their roles. I haven’t added any new characters, and I feel secure in their motivations. Knowing my characters beforehand made it much easier to write about them and helped the story fall into place.
My writing was higher quality:
Without a plan Dragonspire was a mess without direction. It was hard to relate to my main character in the first chapter. The first draft is over 200000 words, and still unfinished. I need to plan it out and rewrite most of it, but that’s okay. I learned a lot writing it.
As for Merlin? My first chapter is focused. It sets up something greater. Alone, without Arthur, Merlin’s life is dull and predictable: A far cry from the chaos of their past. But something is coming. Merlin senses it and, unable to resist, he investigates. Reading over what I’ve written, I like it a lot. It’s great to feel so passionate about a project, and I have planning to thank for it! If anyone is interested I’ve written a few stories about Merlin already: Arthurian reboot stories.
Planning: The not so good.
A plan doesn’t stop you getting stuck:
In 2016, when I started Dragonspire without a plan, I got stuck in the middle of the story. I didn’t know how to get to the end. With a plan I also got stuck, but for different reasons. I began to question my plan at the 45000 word mark. Was my plot good enough? Were my character goals clear enough? Did they mean enough? I’m still a little stuck on this!
Planning made reaching 50k words harder:
In November 2016 I didn’t struggle to reach 50k. I easily wrote 66000 words. With a plan reaching 50k was much harder. I was constantly checking I was on track, stopping to refer to the plan, and thinking about every word I wrote.
Although it was harder to reach 50k, my plan improved the quality of my writing. A lot of the words in Dragonspire are filler words to meet the word count, written because I wasn’t sure where I was going. Merlin is a higher quality first draft.
To plan, or not to plan?:
I came to enjoy planning. I never thought I would. Here are a few tips and things I learned:
Planning helps me. It makes my writing more structured. My dialogue has purpose, my scenes are relevant, and I have a better understanding of my characters motivations. Merlin won’t need a complete rewrite either, because I haven’t waffled whilst I figure out where to go next!
Find out what works for you:
Planning isn’t for everyone. Neither is pantsing. I found planning really useful, but I still need a bit of freedom. I broke chapters into two. I added scenes to flesh out my story. I was flexible with my plan, and if I wanted to add a new character I would!
I’ve tried pantsing and plotting, and I think a combination of the two works best for me. It truly is about experimenting and finding what works best for you!
Planning makes setting goals easier:
With Dragonspire, because I had no plan, I had no idea how long the project would take to finish. I still don’t. With my planned project I can estimate how long it will take to finish my first draft. I aim to be done by the end of March with 125000 words. I hope to start editing in April during Camp NaNoWriMo. I can set goals. I can visualise progress. I like that.
There are some great benefits to planning. What do you think? If you’re a pantser, do you find yourself rewriting great chunks of your first drafts? Planners, do you find your writing is more structured with a plan? Have I convinced anyone to try planning?