How much do I plan out for one of my novels…?
— I detail everything. Seriously. I believe in a Total Immersion style of writing. In other words, I want to know the world so well, I can simply step into the mind and skin of my main character and LIVE the story.
How do I do that…?
I start with a basic plot formula and extrapolate on certain points as needed.
Romance needs extra doses of lover’s angst, Gothics need psychological breakdowns, Horrors need room for monster attacks, Sci-Fi’s and Fantasies need moments of wonder… This gives me a rough plot outline to work from.
Next, I break down each of the Three Main Characters: Hero/Ally/Villain.
This is to make sure that they are ‘psychologically’ in sync with the Plot and Each Other, so their actions/reactions will mesh in the way I intend. (Ahem… That their personalities will clash nicely.)
If I’m doing a Historical, I also look up the four years they were in High School (if it existed,) and check out what books, songs, plays, movies, and/or TV shows were popular during that time. Believe it or not, those are the most common foundational points in most people’s personality.
Think I’m kidding? Look up your own high school years and check out what books, TV shows, songs and Movies were out during that time. Now consider how much those thing STILL influence you today? (If you’re still in school, check out your Mom’s or your Dad’s high school years. The results will be shocking!)
Once I get my main characters down, I sketch out the major support characters.
I don’t go into detail on them. Just names, jobs, physical descriptions, and what I’ve based their personality on, (Scorpio and an INTJ?) or who. (Riddick under a new name?)
Why not detail the Support characters too? Because I don’t want to find myself attached to a character that ISN’T who the story is about.
Then, I map out the LOCATIONS I intend to use.
Location Research is especially important if I’m writing a Historical piece. I begin by researching the NEWS local to that area.
Did riots break out the summer my story happens? Was there a killing snowstorm that winter? Droughts? Floods? Fires, Quakes…? Weather and social conditions are vitally important because these conditions will make or break all the plot points caused by Setting. If one location won’t work— “Oops, on that day, there’s a riot on that street…” —I’ll have to thrash out either a way around it or find a whole new location—or a new Time Period.
Case in point, I seriously thought about writing a story that took place in Early-Industrial Japan. Then I discovered that Japan was in and out of war with Russia and China that whole period because of WWI, plus a few other less than savory—and still hotly debated—skirmishes in Korea. Then there was the Kanto Earthquake and hundreds of massive city-wide fires. Also, their Justice system was NOT Just. (If you had money, you were innocent. If you didn’t—you weren’t.) In short, it was waaaaaaaaay, too much work to thread my little story in the middle of that mess.
Then there’s the WORLD.
If I’m using this world, it’s simply a matter of taking notes on the mundane details of whatever location I plan to use, but if I’m writing a fantasy, or sci-fi…?
How many hours in a day, days in a week, or a month…? (Is there a moon on this planet—or two?) How long is a year? Then comes, an Education system, a medical system, a money system, inventions, and/or magic system, what occupations are available…etc. Also needed is a political system and history for that country or set of countries for that last 200 years—or more.
For ALL the gory details on making your own world from scratch, I suggest:
It’s HUGE but it quite literally covers Everything.
Next is GENRE SPECIFIC Research.
If I’m doing a Sci-Fi or SteamPunk, I do Invention and Science research.
— It always pays to know what actually existed during a certain time period. Did you know that the earliest computer was designed in 1837? It was called The Difference Engine and it ran without electricity. It was gear-driven. Sadly, because of the expense to make it—each gear had to be precision made—only a small model was built of it back then. A full-sized working Engine was finally built in 1991; more than a little after it’s time. Could you imagine how different the world would have been if it had come into use back in the 1800’s?
It also pays to know what current science says is possible in the future. Did you know that a form of anti-gravity already exists? I normally find major inspiration during these research sessions.
If I’m doing a Paranormal or Fantasy story, I do Mythology, Magic and Paranormal research.
— Since I’ve got quite a home library on these subjects, this is just a matter of pulling a book from a shelf.
For those of you who don’t have a ready personal library, there are a million and one sites all over the ‘net on ghosts, demons, angels, and just about every mythological creature out there. There are almost as many sites on magic too: Wicca, Satanism, Shamanism, Shintoism, Buddhism… You name it, it’s out there only a Google search away.
After all that is done, I take one last look at my plot outline then set it aside and begin to write. In the course of writing, some plot points will work and some won’t. Some locations won’t offer quite the right atmosphere I intended for a scene. Sometimes a whole new character will step onstage and become the Ally to the main character or the Villain INSTEAD of the one I mapped out.
When that happens, I take a few moments to extrapolate how such changes will affect the story. If the ending doesn’t change—or a better one suddenly crops up, I go with it. I DON’T stick that hard to the plot outline. I change as needed to make the STORY better—not my ego, or worse, my Character’s ego.
And…that’s pretty much it.