• Charlie King

Writing a book: Planning your plot, characters and book size.

So, you’ve got an idea for the plot of the book, now you have to work out how the plot will play out. You can have the best one-sentence plot idea in the world but you still need to build the world and the characters around it. No plot is good enough to succeed without interesting characters, environments and sub-plots as well as the build-up of drama and suspense.

Some writers are happy to make a start straight away but others like me, like to plan it out beforehand. While there are those who have multiple writing jobs on the go at once, I usually pick one at a time. If I have a few basic plot ideas to choose between, I write about each genre and its clichés (how to flip them on their head) and see which one I start writing bullet points on and find myself down a rabbit hole by the time I’m finished.

For my books, I have always done a rough outline for each chapter so I have an idea of what that chapter will achieve and a list of the main characters and what their roles are. That isn’t to say that these chapters can’t change or no others can be added but it might help you to understand the pacing of your story.

Sometimes I have even assigned an estimated number of pages for each chapter but this is a risky game. You may start writing a chapter and soon realise that your page count estimation is unreachable. The positive part of this strategy is when you find yourself writing well beyond your page estimation which gives you a boost. You might even find that the chapter you didn’t think would be very long will actually need to be split into two chapters. I still tend to do it but I’m not sure I could recommend it. If you do right close to the exact estimation then it can close the door to you adding more to your chapter if your mind tells you that you are done.

Characters are another that can only be planned out to a certain extent. Their general role in the plot and their personality (whether it changes throughout or not) can be set out but you may find other characters can fulfil a bigger role than intended. Without giving too much away, my upcoming book features a character who didn’t exist when I first made my outline and when he did exist, he was mainly there for the comic relief. However, his role in the story became one of the bigger plot points to come out of the book.

Sometimes, even though you are writing it, it can feel like the plot or characters are dragging you in a different direction to what you first intended and you might not know how or when it happened but it is usually a good thing. You may write a one-off comment from a character or a random fact about them that actually takes on some relevance to the plot. You may have something planned for a character but you might realise that they would handle it in a different way, take the other side of the argument than what you originally intended. It might hinder your plans slightly but if you are dealing with something like this, it shows that you have put more thought into your character than the simple outline you labelled them with at the planning stage.

The minor details that make up the intricacies of a book and its characters can’t be planned for. You can plan for a chapter to feature a fierce argument and while you may know what they are arguing about, you don’t really know the context until you write what came before. You can start with a black and white hero vs villain plot but the likelihood is that your hero and villain will be more complex than that. You might already know why the villain acts the way they do but until you write about specifics, you won’t really know the depth of the villain’s character. If you are writing about a fantasy land with its own lore and mythology, you should probably have a basic idea of the main ideologies with the chance to add more as you go on.

A popular method among writers is to write the end chapter(s) first in order to know what they are building to. For my first book, I wrote the second-to-last chapter first which helped to an extent but there were a lot of things I had to change by the time I reached it. If I had done this with my upcoming book, I would have had to have changed almost all of it. It helps to know what the end-game is

To sum up, you can only do so much planning before you start writing the book. I would be surprised if any author could claim to have outlined their whole book and characters and stuck to it completely. It’s not up to me to tell you how to plan your book, if you plan at all, but this is my method and the pros and cons of it. Planning a book’s outline in advance doesn’t lock you in and commit you to following it as you’ll likely find that, just like me, the story evolves beyond your initial ideas.

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