Planning a Novel is like Sketching a Picture

I suddenly find myself at the rewriting stage of my manuscript’s journey.

As a lifelong stereotypical pantser, planning a novel used to feel tedious and stifling to my creativity. I also hated rereading, revising, and polishing my work because my writing seemed chaotic and I never knew where to start. With my current novel, I decided to relearn what I knew about the writing and structure of a story. That led me to meticulously planning everything.

And like an overachieving parent with their child, planning every minute detail of my story made all the difference in how it turned out.

At least that’s how it felt to me. I used this amazing spreadsheet to track the details that were important to me. I’m sure other planners gleefully fill every column and row, but I don’t find every section absolutely relevant to what I’m writing. Even without taking advantage of every space, and this being my first-time planning, I feel so prepared for my revisions that I’m like “rewrite two entire chapters, pff, that’s like, 6k, no big deal!”

In other words, if we’re talking Cheyanne A. Lepka’s alignment sheet, I’ve gone from Chaotic Pantser to Lawful Plantser. Maybe Neutral Plotter because I like having a living outline approach.

The catalyst to my change is a drawing course I’m taking.

Drawing was my main hobby before I got into writing, but I quit when I hit a creative wall. Now that I’m back to it, learning rules and methods I never paid attention to, I realize that a lot of creativity requires detailed outlining with the full acknowledgement that you might go in another direction in the thick of it.

When you draw, you begin with a concept and create a rough sketch to represent the idea of your vision. When you start a novel, your outlined concept (whether physical, digital, or conceptual) gets written into a rough draft that should link those ideas together in a story.

Once the bare (or overstuffed) bones are written out, start sharpening your details and remove guidelines or stray shapes to polish the rough diamond. Use all the tools available to you to produce that epic novel you have in mind.

It’s a combination of unplanned creativity and focused artistry.

I started with my concept for what I wanted to “draw” and formed a vague vision of what it’d look like.

I read many, many blogs and books, crafted my story elements with purpose, and did relentless worldbuilding to serve those elements. Just enough to add shape to my vision – where plots twisted, events occurred, triumphs, losses.

Then I wrote non-stop, following my loose directions from beginning to the end.

There’re some detours and scenic routes, but it goes from Point A to Point B. I gave myself permission to write with radical authenticity, no judgements to the ideas that came out. It highlights the details I need to add and where, which lines need to be erased, and so on.

Before I start adding hard details, I reviewed my concept to better define its final version.

As I read through my manuscript, I tracked my story’s structure, depth, events, outline, and notes for future rewrites – figuring what looked good and what needs reshaping. I wrote down everything relevant to the plot after each chapter, which kept my view fresh and critical. I have bold changes to my story, but the job will be a simple flex of my creativity. I know things will still change as I work on it, but overall, I have my finished look.

I share my detailed concept to get someone’s opinion on my perspective and dimensions.

Once I finish this first round of revisions, I’m sending it to beta-readers, so I know what works and what doesn’t. Then I’ll hit another round of edits and polishing. From there, I’ll refine the picture until it matches my vision.

At least, these are the artsy things I tell myself before I dive into hard edit mode.

I’m looking forward to work the details of my manuscript and bring it closer to submission quality. What I’m even more eager to share my progress as I edit. I’ll be posting tips for first timers revising their own novels, what works for me, what doesn’t, looks behind the scenes, and plenty of excerpts.

Where are you on the writer alignment chart? Or are you a methodical planner? Or do you brazenly pants your way through writing?

One thought on “Planning a Novel is like Sketching a Picture

  1. Pingback: Rewriting Your Novel Means Rewriting Your Outline – C.M. Dahmer

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