by Carolyne Aarsen
My husband had to replace a window in my office awhile back. He drove to his brother’s place, a twenty minute drive one way, borrowed a set of scaffolds, came back and set them up to install the window. Then he got his tools and brought them to the scaffold. All tallied, this took him all morning. My husband is usually very efficient so I was surprised at all the prep work he did for one small window. He could have saved himself a lot of time by simply going down to our garage and getting out his ladder and using that. According to my estimation, he could have had the old window out by the time he had come back from his brother’s place with the scaffolds.
However, as he started working I saw the wisdom in all the preparation he did. He had the scaffold set up under the width of the window. He had plenty of room on the scaffold for the variety of tools he needed. The time he spent taking out the window and replacing it was less than it took to put up the scaffold. But it only went quickly because he had put up the scaffold. He had a solid foundation to work from and he had all his tools handy. As I watched him work I realized that though he seemed to have wasted a lot of time that wasn’t, technically, productive, in the long run it was.
This reminded me of the work I do before I write a book. I spend a lot of time figuring out my characters fears, wounds, motivations, backstory, personality, likes and dislikes. I brainstorm potential scenes and tasks that will be part of my character’s story and how it will affect their character arc. I check out personality sites and struggle with what would be challenges for my characters. I use charts and re-read articles and scribble and discard.
If you were to watch me with my swatches of paper, forms I fill out, web-sites I visit, scribbling and planning for weeks you might think, “Just write the story already.” And I could, but I also know . . . it would take me longer. I’m not a seat of the pants writer. I’m too easily – oh look, a bird – distracted. I would start out writing a romance about Fred and Alice and end up with a sci-fi mystery set in a dystopian future. So I like to plot and plan and do a lot of prep work. Because when I do, I’m more efficient when it comes time for me to write the book.
Some of you might cringe thinking about all this pre-work. I know each of us writers have to find our own way through our stories. But I need to prepare as much for writing my book as my husband did to put that window in. Because once I’m ready, once I feel I have my characters and story under control, I feel much freer to write. And I’m a lot happier with my book when I’m done.
What about you? How much pre-work do you do? Do you think it makes you more efficient? Or do you believe it takes the fun out of the story?
After moving to the country to follow the love of her life, Carolyne Aarsen, a transplanted city girl, quickly adjusted, raising 4 children and numerous foster children, gardens and cattle. In all of this, she also followed her writing dream. She is blessed to write for Love Inspired and is inspired by her husband, family, faith and community.
I’m sort of in the middle. I start writing and then when I get into it and sort of know where I’m going, I stop and do all that work you mentioned. Especially if I’m stuck. However, I do indeed do a lot of research if research is required, prior to putting words to paper. I just don’t always outline.
I loved the scaffold analogy. I could truly picture how this planning works!
Dear Karla, I think each of us has to find our own way to figure out our stories. I know there are as many different ways to do it as there are writers. But I have found what works for me and I have honed the process. I think that’s what is most important. Find what works for you as a writer and don’t be afraid to try to a few other methods.
Thank you so much for these reminders, Carolyne. Recently found my first notebook with planning and thoughts for writing my first novel. That was way back more than 20 years ago. Phew! It at least was a start on the preparation but I realised just how my preparation has evolved and changed over the years as I now battle to write my 18th manuscript. Each manuscript has had preparation, some more than others, but I’m having real problems with this current one. It has taken me a very long time with all kinds of problems to now have the first draft almost finished. Of course there is more than one reason, however now I’m having to acknowledge the main one: not enough preparation! I am a mixture of a plotter and a panster writer but did not do enough of that initial preparation. Back to basics for that next one!
When I first started writing, I just started at the beginning and hacked my way to the end. While I was lucky enough to get published, I have learned the hard way that some planning is important and necessary. Too much planning can straitjacket you, but you do need some kind of road map if characters are going to be developed properly and everything is going to be tied up properly in the end and lead to a satisfying experience for the reader. Maybe the best way is a balance of both planning and going with the flow.
I laughed, Carolyne, when I read “…oh, look, a bird.” Thank you for the prep tips. Just to share, I wrote the following for another web site:
HOW DO YOU OUTLINE? You CAN avoid the “sagging middle.”
How do you outline your novels? Do you use a large whiteboard or post-it notes on a wall for character descriptions and scenes? I discovered a way to build an outline that avoids the “sagging middle.” I use Scrivener software’s character description forms to build characters, then in a simple Word doc, I write down all of the scenes, arcs, turning points, conflicts, and climaxes (if more than one) and I do it without regard to where in the novel these scenes, etc will appear. After days of this, I type PART I, PART II, AND III below all of these scenes. I then move them into PART I (the first third of the novel) or II, or III. I check to make sure I won’t have a sagging middle when I start to write the manuscript. Anyway, it’s just an idea that suits me. Might not be right for you. HOW DO YOU OUTLINE?