My current definition of intense – spending a day with Kate Forsyth while she teaches the finer points of plotting a novel. I flew to Sydney (blue skies, warm weather, gorgeous friends) for the weekend to do a writing course at the Australian Writers’ Centre. Kate was equal parts inspiration and practicality – I finished the day feeling like I had new tools for my writing and was inspired to try this new way of planning a novel.
I have completed many writing courses over the past five years but never one on planning or plotting a novel before. I have always been a got-a-vague-idea-let’s-see-where-this-goes kind of writer. And it never felt quite right but when I did try to plan out a novel I became stuck, and would just write it out, rather than plan it out. And I wondered whether I was really procrastinating by writing lists and moving scenes around … surely that wasn’t moving my story forward?
It also seemed at odds with the way I usually organise myself in life – I am a write a list kind of girl – for groceries, daily tasks, Christmas presents, etc.
I read a fantastic book on planning a book – C.S. Lakin’s The twelve key pillars of novel construction but it has taken Kate’s workshop to really understand the benefits of planning.
For a little while, I have been wondering about the connection for writers between the left and right sides of the brain, the analytical and the intuitive sides. When Kate defined the four stages of writing as daydreaming, plotting, writing and editing, I could see that both sides of the brain are equally important for writing. Obviously, you need intuition for daydreaming, and analysis for plotting and editing. I would have thought that writing relies more on intuition but Kate said that analysis is just as important because you need to make decisions on what you are writing.
There were so many other lightbulb moments:
- that writing a novel is like doing a jigsaw – you start with the foundations – the corners, the edges
- that all the incidents in a plot must be inextricably bound
- that the pacing must quicken with shorter chapters, even shorter sentences, towards the end of the book
- that planning a book is like following a recipe – you can adjust it once you have followed the recipe a few times
- that if you are stuck, it means you don’t know enough about your characters or your story.
Kate gave us a ten point detailed explanation of her process for planning a book. I am going to use this on the first draft of my NaNoWriMo book – even though I have already written the first draft. There are only three weeks until the Easter school holidays but I want to apply Kate’s process in reverse before I start the second draft.
And Kate did tell us that it was ok to change your plan and that she did so frequently!
So I’m making up my mind to be an organised, planned writer, just like I am organised and planned (somewhat!) in the rest of my life. Are you a planning sort of person for most of your life’s details or just some of them? And if you are a creative type, with a flair for cooking or sketching or sewing or writing, are you organised or a free spirit with your art?