How I Plan a Draft

Now that I'm querying AST, and the long wait to hear back from agents has begun, I'm gearing up for my next project.

I know this blog tends to be a bit of a love letter to revision, so I thought today I'd talk about another part of the process: Planning.

Now, it makes sense that I spend so much time discussing revision. It certainly takes up the most time in my personal writing process. I generally take about 1-2 weeks to prep for a novel (though I do a ton of day dreaming and unfocused thinking about the story well before then, the 2 weeks is just the time I actively spend gelling all my day dreams into something useful). It then takes me about 30 days to draft (I'm a NaNo-style drafter). And then revision? Well, that takes months and months and numerous rounds of changes until my talented CPs deem it ready for the world (aka sending to agents). And after I get an agent? It'll be more revision.

So yeah, waxing poetic about revision makes sense. But you can't revise a novel that isn't written, so here are the steps I take to plan for a draft. I've completed all of these steps over the course of the last week or so (minus the day dreaming, that's been happening for a couple years on this one).

1 - Come up with idea and let it tug on your subconscious

The idea for this novel (tentatively titled THE ACADEMY) started as a reoccurring dream I had in college. It's been mulling around in my brain ever since (for those counting, that's about 4-6 years--but not all of my ideas germinate that long). Last summer, I tried to write this novel and got about 100 pages into it before I went back to revising a different novel. I read those pages last week...and they were awful! They all went in the recycling. But it's not all wasted. I know now for sure one way to NOT write this novel, and that's good.

2 - Craft "The Sentence" 

The Sentence is something I learned from Holly Lisle's courses and is now how I start every novel-prep session. Basically, the goal is to boil down the essence of your novel into one sentence (I believe Holly gives a 34 word max on this sentence, too). What I love about this exercise is that it both keeps me grounded as I'm writing and also makes it easy to explain my WIP to anyone who may ask.

My Sentence for The Academy is:

A rebellious teen exiled to a secluded military academy for students with paranormal 'talents' must uncover the origin of their power before history repeats itself and she and her classmates wind up dead.

It may not be super pretty, and it may not mean a ton to you, but to me, it tells me a ton about what I'm trying to create. To create your own sentence, be sure to include your protagonist (in my case a "rebellious teen"), your antagonist (the military academy/their powers), the setting (the military academy), and the twist (that their powers have a history and it could get them killed).

3 - Write your Mock Query Letter

Writing a mock-up of a query letter for my unwritten novel has two purposes. First, there's always a chance that the novel I'm currently querying won't get me an agent and I'll need to have one for this novel. While I certainly don't polish it a ton, it's nice to have a starting point to work with instead of a blank page when I get to it. Secondly, this is another way to help me stay focused as I write. While I'll definitely adjust and edit the query letter to fit what the novel becomes, this letter helps me find the beginnings of my voice and what I'm trying to accomplish.

This is also when I start to really think about length and whether this will be a stand alone novel or the start of a series. In this case, I'm thinking the novel will run about 75K and, while I want it to feel like a very solid stand alone, I do ultimately see this as an ongoing series (maybe 4-6+ books). But I do really want this novel to feel very complete on its own.

4 - Sketch out Characters (and Pinterest fun)

I like to spend some time with my characters, getting to know their histories and how those will affect them as they move through this story. I also like to talk out my characters with my friend Jaimee (her psych background is super helpful! Plus, she's just generally super smart and doesn't get annoyed when I blather on and on about made up people).

With characters, I don't like to delve too deeply into every possible facet of their personalities before I draft, as I like to discover more about them as I write. Even so, I've already discovered things about my characters that are a lot different than what I'd tried to impose on them. So I'm keeping myself flexible to discover who they truly are.

Also, all the Pinterest. I love using Pinterest to get visual aids for my characters and inspiration for setting and mood. You can check out my board for this project here.

5 - Sketch out Three Act Structure

I'm not really a hard core planner or pantser, but rather fall somewhere in the middle. So while I don't plot out every scene, I do like to have a general direction for each of my three acts. I also like to get a little timeline going that shows about where, numerically-by-wordcount, the turning points between scenes should fall

After I've done that, I write out the following major events: opening, start of Act II, start of Act III, midpoint, dark moment, and ending.

6 - Cookie Scenes!

This is a technique I learned from Susan Dennard's blog series on planning. I write out all the cookie scenes for my novel, all those bits I'm dying to write. For this novel, it includes lots of super fun, sarcastic sexual tension between a few of my leads, creepy issues with the powers, the mystery elements, etc.

7 - Fleshing out Each Act

I spend a little time organizing the cookie scenes into each of the acts and filling in some of the big holes, but still leaving plenty of story to be discovered :)

8 - Prep Scrivener File

The last step for me is preparing my Scrivener file. I don't like to add in the scene placers yet because I prefer to see how far I've come rather than how far I need to go when I'm drafting, but I do like to create the character sketches (mostly copying over from my notebook) and create my word count graph (so I can keep tabs on my progress).

And then it's time to write! And that's where I'm headed after work tonight, braving the first empty screen of this novel. 

You tell me, how do you like to prep for your novels? Do you use any of these steps or do you have a different process?

-Isabel

PS

I'm going to try to keep up on blogging, but between drafting and going to Scotland (AHH! SO EXCITED!) this month, July may be a light one on blog posts.