Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pre-plotting: My process before plotting the story.

The idea for my NaNo story has been percolating in the back of my mind for months. Even before I sat down and really started thinking about it, I had a rough idea of the world, my main characters, and the general plot (thank goodness about that last one, nailing down the plot is one of the hardest things for me typically.) The past few weeks I have been brainstorming with pen and paper because it lends itself to more organic organization. I might post what some of my brainstorming on paper looks like later, but, to give you a quick description, it typically includes very few paragraphs with lots of circles and squares of text linked together with lines. (Oh yeah, and doodles. I never remember drawing them, but give me a pen and doodles will end up in the margins of about any piece of paper I'm around for an extended period of time.) I'll be honest, I don't spend a lot of time going back over the mess I make while brainstorming, but it helps me to get it out there.

After a couple brainstorming sessions, my story has turned from and extremely general idea to a little bit more clearly defined. Time to figure out the details.

At this point in the process, I know enough about my characters and their plans to form a jumping point, but especially in fantasy, the world a character lives in really shapes who they are and what they do. For instance, the series I have been working on the last few years is set in a fictional city that could be almost any major city in modern day America, and the existence of supernaturals is a closely guarded secret. On the other hand, my NaNo story is set an "alternate history" type world, where the existence of supernaturals was made public sometime back. Without knowing anything about the characters in question, a fact like that automatically changes how they will react to possible events. The rules of "magic" in the world also shape how the characters act and the possible path of the plot.

So, before I begin to make any kind of plot outline, I start with a little pre-plotting. I define the history of my world, what type of "creatures/supernaturals" will inhabit it, what type of magic exists. I try to delve into how culture will have developed and establish a social hierarchy. I ask myself questions like how supernaturals are policed, what a rule breaker would suffer, and if that particular race of supernaturals functions as a kind of "exclusive club" or if they freely share/associate with other sups/humans. None of this information is specific to the characters in the story, and while I compile this information into word files, the reader will never learn most of it .

Why do it then? Well, for me (and I am not an expert at anything, so this is only my process and everyone is welcome to their own) I need to know this information now, before I get any further, because this will help me figure out more about my characters and help me work out my plot. I keep a 'bible' of my world in files on the computer (instead of just in my head) because I will forget, and changing the 'rules' half way through a story leads to lots of rewriting later. This doesn't mean I won't change some of this information or flesh it out more as I get into the story, but it is a very strong starting point for me. Also, reading over this compiled information tends to fill me with new ideas.

This is the stage of plotting (or pre-plotting) I'm in currently with my NaNo novel, and I must say, I'm enjoying it. I absolutely love world-building. Once I feel like I have the world and races fleshed out, I'll go on to the next stage of pre-plotting, which will be compiling character bios, but that is another topic for another day.

How much planning do you do before starting a new novel? Do you keep extensive files of information about your world, or do you rely on your characters to show you the world as you write?


Fred Charles said...

I'm not doing too much pre-planning for my next novel. I know in my head what has to happen.

As for Nanowrimo..I am sitting out this year, lol.

Kalayna-Nicole Price said...

Hey Fred!
I'll miss you at NaNo this year, but good luck with your next project.