Planning It All Out

When I was younger, maybe about 10 or 11, I kept a bug-out bag tucked in the back of my closet. I didn’t call it that, of course, I’m not a hard-boiled detective. It was my Fire/Earthquake survival bag, filled with only the most important clothing and books.

I tend to over prepare. There never was an earthquake, or a fire, or a miscreant who breaks into the house for the sole purpose of kidnapping little girls. But I kept still kept the bag packed. When I got a little older and the most important aspects of my life shifted from the material to the personal (books, writing, and photos instead of clothes and dolls) I mapped out extensive scenarios where I would grab my prized possession and be able to slip out of my room well before lava could burst through the door.

I don’t know if I could still call it being over-prepared. Perhaps I’m a tad neurotic, maychance a little obsessive.

I was talking about book planning with friends, both of whom I trying to rope into finishing stories and start publishing them, and I was surprised how strange my planning processes looked to them.

I’m not a mathematical person, but I like breaking down my work into concrete numbers. There’s something satisfying about having a goal and being able to surpass it. This is why I love using a yearly spreadsheet to keep track of my writing.

When planning out my writing there are two important things I take into account: word count and deadlines.

For my last novel I started by breaking down the planning like so:

Total Novel Word Count: 75-80K

Chapter Word Count (Est.): 4-5K

Start Date: August 5, 2013

Goal End Date: November 30, 2013

Knowing that I wanted 4-5K chapter lengths allowed me to further break down the structure of the novel. I already knew the Urban Fantasy genre well which meant  I knew what tropes needed to work with to appeal to readers. I also played around with a mix of the 5-Act Structure and the 8-Act Structure.

Planning out the structural beats that I wanted to hit allowed me to create a more detailed outline.

Set up/ Exposition
Chapter 1 
Chapter 2 

Rising Action/ First Major Conflict
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Potential Solution/Greater Conflict
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

Resolution of Minor Problem/Complication for Primary Objective
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

The Last Argument/New Solution for Primary Objective
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Final Climax
Chapter 13
Chapter 14

Chapter 15
Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Breaking something into it’s most basic outline, gives me a measure of control and it also makes my work easier. I don’t need to spend hours thinking up plot or looking for new conflict, I have the beats down and all I need to do is tailor my work to fit that. I know that there are writers that would find this process a little souless, I don’t. It frees me from worrying about the big picture, so that I can focus on the sections that matter most to me.