by AnnMarie Kolakowski
When planning a novel, how much planning is appropriate to go into it before you sit down and start spitting out dialogue and narration and description and rough draft? This is a question I’ve been struggling with lately. I once took a creative writing class where the professor absolutely firmly insisted that we not plan at all, that we let it be “organic.” However I’m sure many of you can attest from experience that it’s a lot easier to get where you want to go when you have a road map.
I’ve stumbled upon a couple of good ideas for effective brainstorming that I’m sure aren’t at all new—“there is nothing new under the sun”—but which I hope might help you in negotiating the need to plan and the need to keep your novel a natural, organic growing process.
Earlier this month, I began developing a character for a novel by “interviewing” him daily on paper. I called him Simon. I asked him questions about his life: things like who his favorite comic book hero was as a kid, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. I asked him about his hopes for this story, what truth he wanted to convey with it, and what he thought of some of the other characters in my developing hypothetical cast. Sometimes I couldn’t think of anything “important” to talk about with him, so I just shared whatever was going on with me. The hard day at work I had, the fears that lingered about my ability to write. Sometimes he comforted me, sometimes he laughed at me, but always he pushed me back into the writing seat and challenged me to do proper justice to his story. I became committed to him and to his story, by the simple act of keeping in daily contact with him on paper.
Now, I can’t yet verify all of the benefit of this approach. My focus actually shifted at some point to another character in the story and to his plight, and I think Simon may have to step back into a more minor role so that this character can be more central. But at least Simon is someone I feel like I know, not just a wallflower whose face I have to consult my high school yearbook for! And I’m confident Simon will continue to help me by pushing me to get this story out.