All of you pantsers out there have probably asked this question, "Why should I waste time planning my novel?" You may have even stated, "I could never spend all that time on outlining my novel or doing character studies. I just write what comes to me." This is a fine and dandy way to write a novel. Poll 100 successful novelists, and a large majority of them will state they write by the seat of their pants.
But one thing I've discovered lately while teaching the writing the middle grade novel class for WOW! is that doing a little pre-writing really does help your novel. It, at least, makes the turmoil of getting your first draft down on paper a little easier. Student after student has written to me and said that they enjoyed the weeks of pre-writing, they felt they knew their characters and plot better, and they actually had new ideas for subplots.
What type of pre-writing did we do? It's nothing groundbreaking. We spent a week discussing our favorite middle grade novels and why they are our favorites. During this week, students wrote a summary of their novels like it would appear on the back of a book jacket. This exercise made writers focus on who and what their story was about.
Next, we did a character study on the main character and an important minor character. I let students choose what type of character study to do, as I feel some writers need to answer questions to build a character like, "What's her favorite food?" or "What's a happy childhood memory?" Other writers build characters better if they can write about them in paragraphs with prompts such as, "What are your character's hobbies?" or "Who is in your character's family?"
Finally, the middle grade writers in my class made a list of problems or issues a child the same age as their main character could have. We shared these lists with each other, and then students created an external problem, an internal problem, and subplots. Once all these pre-writing activities were completed, writers started chapter one.
So, why plan a novel? I wasn't convinced that it was a good idea before I started teaching this class. But now, I believe it makes a novel easier to write. I believe we'll have less backtracking later on. I believe we'll know our characters inside and out.
But what do you think? And do you have any methods that work best for you?
Margo L. Dill teaches the online class, "Writing the Middle-Grade Novel" for WOW! Women On Writing, which starts Monday, July 25 and lasts for six weeks. To see the syllabus and sign up, please visit the WOW! classroom page. Margo's first middle-grade novel will be published by White Mane Kids. To find out more, visit Margo's website, www.margodill.com.
photo by Pink Sherbert www.flickr.com