Today I've made a start on planning my novel for this years NaNoWriMo. I'm not generally a huge fan of planning novels too much in advance. For me it takes away a lot of the energy and excitement of writing the actual story. I normally like to do what I did last year - have a rough idea of where the story's going, including a big ending, and work my way through from there. If the idea is good, then the story tends to come alive of its own accord.
But this time I am giving the planning thing another go. As I'm aiming for 125,000 words this time I need to have a good idea of what's going to make up those words, otherwise it'll just end up being waffle that no one will ever want to read, not even me.
To help guide me I'm referring to a book called "First Draft in 30 Days" by Karen S. Wiesner. She argues that by writing a extremely detailed outline you can fix whatever's wrong with a novel before you start to actually write it, to the point that the outline counts as your first draft, which then makes writing the actual novel a lot easier. I've read through the book, and there are some good ideas in there. But I'm not going to stick to it religiously, especially when it comes to plotting the novel - I tend to disregard anything that tells me how a story should be plotted. I've seen a few versions of plot outlines that advise new writers where the twists and turns in a story should be, but they all tend to differ from each other. So which plot model is the right one that authors should be following?
I don't think there is a single "right" method for plotting a novel - each author has to find what's right for them. Personally, I can't write a story where I'm being told the direction the plot should be taking, such as when the problem the hero has to overcome should be introduced, when they should suffer a setback, when they should almost win, but then fail and have to try again etc. I find that approach stifles my writing, and changes the story that I wanted to tell into something else entirely.
And so I have my own way of plotting a novel - which in it's simplest form is to have a big finale in mind when you start writing the novel, and to build up to that. If you have a good idea for your story the twists and turns will come to you as you write it. And as I've written a number of stories I think I'm getting reasonably good at naturally plotting a story. Being able to do so naturally is infinitely better than trying to force plot points into a story.
I already have the big finale in mind for my NaNoWriMo 2008 novel - in fact it's been in my head since the end of last years NaNoWriMo! I'm doing something very different this year to last year. This year's novel is going to be semi-autobiographical, but heavily fictionalised - the main character will be doing many things that I have never done nor ever will do or would want to do. People who know me will notice elements from my life, but then see these elements go in completely new directions. (And, before anyone asks: No, there are not going to be any witches in it!) I also have the novel's title in mind, but I don't feel now is the time to reveal that...
Today I've started some very basic character sketches, with nine characters so far. We've been introduced today, and over the next few months I'm going to get to know them very well, to the point where they'll probably drive me crazy...