Planning Your Novel or Memoir: Feb. 16, 2022

Creative and Memoir Writing Class Notes  by Carol Brennan King

We talked in class at the Abington Community Library in Clarks Summit, PA, this week about the reality that all writers are not created the same. But you knew that already.

Some of us are Pantsers: those who write our story “by the seat of our pants” – or by writing whatever it is that wants to come next.

Others of us are some version of Plotters. Not Plodders as some might think. The Plotter thinks through the story he or she is writing and is likely to know how the book will end before they start writing.

A serious Plotter will make an outline, often chapter by chapter, each one built around a scene or scenes where the Protagonist or Hero battles with the Antogonist or Villain in some kind of Conflict. That outline in brief of P fighting A over some kind of C will reoccur in every chapter in some measure and will also be the core of the book. The conflicts will change in magnitude and importance and will also be vehicles that reveal just who P and A are, in character…in who they are inside.

And if you can’t join us, call the library for the zoom contact.

The outline will also show what motivates these people, the Why of the book. Now you know everything you need to know about writing a book! Not really, but you do know what Plotters will know before they begin serious writing.

Oh, some people plot a little and then write by the seat of their pants. Like me.

I see a lot of classes being offered that guarantee you will have a book written in 90 days. I think the only way they can promise that is by giving you an outline or formula that you will fill in with your story points, not that this is easy to do. You have to think them up. Once you have spent weeks planning the book and writing a detailed outline, the writing itself should go quickly. I do not want to demean these programs, but know up front, that for 90 days, you will be eating, drinking, and sleeping your novel.

I also promise you, a ninety-day book will still need editing and revising on the other end – though much less than if you Pantsed your way for 90 days.

So now that we know a good book needs a Protagonist, an Antagonist, and a Conflict or a bunch of them, then what?

  1. Elevator Pitch: Even if you are not a Plotter, it is very helpful to come up with a sentence or two summarizing your book idea. You need to know Who your main character (P)is and What they want, Who (A) wants to prevent that from occurring, and What they are going to do to prevent (C) the P from reaching their goal. Now you have a book in a nutshell. Think about having only a minute or so to sell your story. This WILL help you sell your book later, but it will also keep you focused as you write.

2. Then, get a cup of your favorite beverage and let that elevator pitch grow. Think about what your first chapter will be about, then middle or big conflict, and finally how is the conflict going to resolve Fill in those blanks. Think about having a few minutes to sell your story. This exercise will help you even more to keep your focus as you get to the actual writing.

I like to use notebook paper and a pen I like to do what comes next.

  1. Write out what the Protagonist’s big problem is that prevents them from getting what is desired. Then think through how they feel about themselves – or what are their weaknesses.
  2. Now do the same for the Antogonist. What do they want, and what personal challenges or weaknesses stand in their way or makes the conflict greater?
  3. Related to that and I like to do exercise on paper, in a notebook or file, or on a whiteboard, everything you know about your main characters. This will help you be faithful to who they are as your story moves on and will help you know what you have to work with to keep the piece believable and interesting. I heard one writer relate how her book got past an agent and to a publisher before she found out the editors had missed that the birthdate she gave a character in the book made it impossible for him to do what she gave him to do.

Close reading, and research are necessary.

I  work with a couple of whiteboards, a box and notebook for all the research I do, and a couple of computer files. I give one computer and notebook file the working title of the book, and that is where I write. I also often date my manuscript files, so if I lose one, by some electronic glitch or my own carelessness, I don’t have to recreate the whole thing.

A second file that I open will be called research for the book (title). That way I have a place to put all of those great internet sites that I need, so I am accurate in the scenes I write. PS, it has more than internet sites: things like travel brochures, maps, even recipes.

PS. Even if you are writing a memoir or historical fiction, some version of the above helps will also be useful to you.

If you need a prompt, here’s a few:

  1. Write a short story with no dialogue.
  2. Take something usual or ordinary and have it do something unusual
  3. Use the color red in your story.

Happy Writing!

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