Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fiction Planner: We All Need A Little Bit Of Organization

copyright 2015 by MG Camacho
I have always been a pantser when I first started writing fiction way back in high school. I didn't outline, I'd do research as I go along, all my character sketches are in my head as well as my plot.

Back in those days, I have the memory of an elephant, not to mention photographic too and I probably can do away with written notes for book ideas and research. Sure, I could finish writing a novella in a shorter amount of time back then (especially during summer breaks) than it would take me today with me having a full time day job and 3-hour daily commute, but when I read my early works, I noticed that the characters were flat and lifeless and I ramble on and on about setting descriptions and while they're great descriptions, it takes away from the action of the story and it doesn't move the story forward.

When I started working full time after college, I had even less time to do research, outline and do character sketches so I'd do research as I went along. I had an idea of some key elements that will happen in the story but I don't know when that will happen or how. That's how much of a pantser I was. Well, the problem I encountered several times was this: when I get a book/story idea, I start writing it down as much as possible and go wherever the story takes me. Somewhere in the middle, I'd lose steam or get bored with it or hit some major writer's block and the book never gets finished. Why? Because of the following reasons:
1. I didn't think through the plot key points to keep me and the story back on track if ever my characters decided to go off roading.
2. I don't know my characters well enough to know how they would react in certain situations and they're not consistent throughout the book!
3. Some earlier events in the book ends up conflicting/clashing with a later event in the book because again, I did not outline my plot well enough.
4. I always had the hardest time trying to write my book's description or summary.

Several years later, I've done a couple of writing courses and discovered that both pantsers and plotters have advantages and disadvantages to them. So, during the time I was taking this writing course, I realized that for a pantser like me, it actually wouldn't hurt to be a little bit more organized in my writing (I mean, I actually have OCD tendencies in my real life and at my day job) without sacrificing creative free flow. How? By combining the best of both worlds. And over time, I've developed my own Fiction Planner, and I noticed that I don't get writer's block as much as I used to. Sure I'd get them once in a while but when I do, I don't get stuck for months on end. It only lasts for a minute or two. When I do get stuck, it's always because of a new situation where I wanted it to go a certain way but it did not feel right. So, because this situation is happening to a certain character, I would ask myself the question: How would this character react? Then I would just scribble the reaction down to get my creative juices flowing again and it's so much easier because I took the time to actually draw up and write down in detail all of my character sketches, and I include photos of actors/actresses that I think best describes my character in the event my books get picked up for a movie/TV series deal (if you're gonna dream, dream big, right?). I also have pictures of the places that inspired my setting. Having photos on hand helps me with descriptions in the book and it also solidifies the image of a place or character in my head. It makes it real to you as the writer. So if it is real to you, when you write these down, it will feel just as real to your readers.

I was reading through my Facebook feed a couple days ago and realized that there's a lot of people who love to write fiction but couldn't seem to finish one book because they lose steam, they get bored with it, or they get lost and frustrated. And because I have been in that same boat for a number of years, I have developed my own pantser system of fiction planning that so far, hasn't taken away the joy of creative freedom for me that I thought I'd share my fiction planner with my fellow pantsers in the hopes that it will help you stay focused and inspired to finish writing the book to the end.

My Fiction Planner is currently available as a PDF download for free here. I highly suggest that once you have downloaded a copy, keep that as a master template and for every book idea you have that you want to start working on, save a copy of it with the book's working title, that way, you're always starting with a blank template. If you are planning to use this Fiction Planner digitally on either a computer or tablet, you can use this on any PDF annotation software/app or any note taking app like notability or evernote. I personally use notability on my iPad. If you are a more tactile person, you can definitely print these pages out and fill it out by hand and really get creative with it (stickers, colored pens and markers, crayons, etc.) and you can also punch holes along one side and stick it in a binder or Filofax or planner, that way you can rearrange the pages however you like. Also, when you get to the actual writing part, you are not limited to writing in a linear/chronological fashion. If you write each scene on one or two pages (make sure you mark the pages so you'd know which page goes with which scene), you can easily move your scenes around your binder/Filofax/planner to make sense of your story and see how each scene transitions into the next one.

If you end up downloading my Fiction Planner and found it useful, please feel free to share it with other writers you know by directing them to my website at http://www.mgcamacho.com/p/fiction-planner.html