I love reading blog posts by authors talking about their 'process'. I adore the idea that there are a list of rules which, if I follow them faithfully, the end result will be a saleable MS. This trait slops over into other areas of my life - I had a shelf full of How-To books on baby rearing. I read Gina Ford and Tracy Hogg, I am a devotee of Dr Christopher Green's Toddler Taming. I wanted to believe that if I followed a set of rules the small one would sleep through the night at six weeks. Some of the rules worked and some didn't (the small one didn't sleep through for MONTHS *grits teeth at memory*). And it's the same with my How-To books about writing. Some of it works for me and some of it doesn't. The trick is to pick out the things that do work.
I thought I'd start with planning, since that is one point that I have nailed down about myself. I am not a pantser. I am in awe of them. How do they manage? How do they know they can sustain their conflict and story for the full 50k? I need to know where I'm going at all times.
My most recent submission that didn't make a sale was my New Voices entry, Honeymoon With A Stranger, and as I've mentioned before, that story was an example of me starting out as a pantser. I dashed off one chapter because I thought I had an interesting initial hook situation, but I had no idea where the story was going after that. None of that mattered because I didn't expect it to get anywhere in the competition. It placed well in NV because I had no choice but to do some plot development and I had Liz Fielding in the background advising me and helping me brainstorm, but the moment the competition finished and I tried to complete the MS, it got harder and harder to continue with every chapter. I floundered around, not knowing where I was heading, my conflicts weren't strong enough, and as a result the story was rejected by M&B. My characters were good, dialogue and humour worked, but the whole thing fell down because it didn't have a decent story that could sustain me through 50k.
So when I started writing Secrets of the Rich and Famous, with editorial guidance, pantsing was out and planning was most definitely in. I did detailed character interviews and I had to submit a detailed story plan to the editor before I wrote so much as a word. It was broken down into twelve stages - I knew what was going to happen in every chapter, I knew how it was going to end. And in producing this plan, I used a plotboard. I hadn't done this before, and I have to admit part of the attraction was the fiddling around with stationery and colour coding - I like all that! This is what my plotboard looked like when I started out.
Pretty bare really. I split it up into five acts, put in lines for the mid-point, turning points and the black moment, and slapped on post-its for scene ideas and roughly where I thought they would fit in.
I planned to update the board as I went along, adding new ideas as they came to me etc, but this picture is also exactly what the board looked like when I finished the story. For some reason I never got round to adding to it and I never really referred to it, it just sat in my spare room. (At one point I hung the washing too close to it on the airer and it got dripped on - hence the pink streak!)
In conclusion therefore, I could assume that plotboarding just isn't for me. But I know deep down that setting this thing up helped. It helped a lot. It made me visualise how the story played out and it forced me to think about how and where different events and developments happened in my story. And when I actually did get stuck into the writing I didn't have any problems with sagging middles or floundering about what would happen next, like I did with Honeymoon.
So this time round, I will be doing all the five act organising and plotting all over again. I might not plotboard - maybe I will set up a spreadsheet or draw a diagram, I haven't really decided - but I will do something visual to nail the story down before I start writing.
What works for you? Do you plan or do you dive in and pants?