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I&E follow-along: Stage 4

With my initial brainstorming period complete, I can finally start planning the books—hurrah!

Stage 4: Creating the framework

A lot of writers go straight from idea-generation into outlining their novel scene-by-scene, but I’ve discovered that this doesn’t really work for me. There’s a big difference conceptually between the narrative—the stuff you actually show the reader on the page—and the plot, i.e. the objective sequence of what happens in the world of the story. I like to know what my plot is before I decide which parts of it I want to show the reader (and through whose eyes).

However the biggest reason not to jump too early into scene cards is that unless you have a PoV character amongst the antagonist’s camp, you’re not going to have any scenes describing the antagonist’s covert actions—and that makes it very easy to underwrite the antagonist and particularly to fail to plot their story in a coherent way. This is something I really struggled with in Night’s Masque, where the PoV characters are all selected from amongst the good guys, and it’s a mistake I don’t intend to make twice.

Two major ideas I got out of the exploration stage were:

  • a small independent city-state on the edge of an empire that’s about to collapse, with a consequent breakdown of law and order
  • two separate protagonists who begin as strangers but in due course meet up and become allies against a common enemy (and go on to have further adventures together, assuming the first couple of books sell well!)

The first point gives me an external timeline; a framework of events that will happen regardless of my characters’ actions, because the fall of an empire is not normally within an individual’s control. The second gives me a narrative timeline predicated on a single fact: that the characters meet and become allies. Together that gives me an overall framework that I can eventually map individual books onto—but first I have to decide how these two timelines intersect, and work out some other major plot points that occur as a result of the conflicts I’ve brainstormed.

This is when I break out the serious technology! I like to use Scrivener, mainly because it has a free-form corkboard view that allows me to arrange events into multiple timelines and place them at arbitrary intervals, so I don’t have to determine dates or durations yet (of course you can use a physical pinboard and cards if you prefer). The only disadvantage is that you can only get so many index cards on the cork board before you have to start scrolling, so I prefer to use this method just for major plot points, not for the detailed outline. Although it all sounds rather logical and serious, this is actually a really fun stage of story development. I now have some idea of the story, and I can start filling in the main plot points and twists and focusing on the critical elements from Lesson 8 of HtTS.

That’s the plan, anyway! I suspect I’ll be on this stage for a while longer; my timetable for this project is to plan and outline it between now and late October, then begin the first draft for NaNoWriMo. I don’t want to start writing it any later than that, but on the other hand I may get impatient and start it sooner! I guess we’ll have to see…