Planning and pesky characters


Artwork by Amber Martin

I don’t write plot plans or outlines and this blog explains why.

If you follow regularly you’ll know I’m rubbish at planning what I write, preferring instead to let the story develop as the words (hopefully) flow from subconscious to computer screen.

However after writing my post about the Chicken House / Times children’s book competition, I decided to write a plot plan for my young adult novel, Dragon Wraiths. I had an idea where the story was going, haven written half of it, so it seemed a safe, logical thing to do, particularly as I haven’t got long to draft and redraft before submission in September / October. I hoped that a plan would help me get all the continuity right first time and save some long-term pain. All good.

Except the pesky characters won’t do what they’re told.

I’m two chapters into my ‘plan’ and already I’ve added a whole new section to the novel, extending it from 3 parts to 4. I’ve changed a good character into a barrier and rewritten the whole ending. Twice.

So far my adherence to the plan resembles my children’s colouring: The lines are there only to be scribbled over. As a parent I have tried to let my kids colour how they like, seeing it as too controlling to tell them to colour inside the lines. Am I giving a free-rein to my own creativity by scribbling all over my own plot plan, or am I just scatty?

I have also discovered that, while I find it almost impossible to summarise a chapter into one line, it is easy for one line of planned plot to become two or three chapters.

I have written 7,000 words today and covered only two lines of plot plan.

They find the missing girl and she agrees to help takes no account of how hard it turned out to be to find the girl or the fact that she was rude and uncooperative when they did find her. My whole story depends on the girl being helpful: I didn’t expect her to have a mind of her own. In twenty words of dialogue, written while walking the dog, she has destroyed my whole plot outline with her rudeness. Grrr.

So I am ploughing ahead without worrying too much about the plan. It is still useful as a guide for key plot developments, particularly for the sciency bits that are not my strong point. As for the rest, even I don’t know if the darn woman will help out in the end, or finish up being written out of the book entirely.

That’ll show her.