I almost never write down the plans to my stories. I often find myself getting frustrated with planning to the point that I just give up writing them down so instead I keep them in my head. Spacefall for example was entirely planned out from start to finish in my head. No plans for it were ever written down. The outlines for all ten parts were produced in my head. This is part of the reason there are a number of elements which I cut out of the story half-way through or didn’t put in at all: I just forgot about them. This also why it ended up taking much longer than I anticipated, I grossly underestimated how long it would take to get through certain events in the plot. There are, however, some advantages to not writing down my plans though: I often change my mind about a story and decide there’s a better approach to it and it is easier to put those changes in if I am not committed to a particular storyline yet.
This week though I sat down and planned the next six to eight installments of Thorns. This is because I have a lot a complicated things happening in Thorns at once and it is getting confusing for me to keep track of them all. Each character in Thorns has some pretty significant developments. This alone is difficult for me remember, but details like where each character has their particular thorns are becoming a struggle for me to recall easily. Added to this that I have journal entries from Elwin that take the reading frame of the story into the past. However, these next six to eight parts I have planned are going to finish setting the stage for the major events of the book. Which is proving itself to be longer than I had intended. So far I have just shy of 17,000 words of content for Thorns and the next 8,000 words is going to bring that to 25,000 at least.
What is interesting me about this is that my approach of writing the book without a fixed written plan is that the story isn’t neatly organised. Instead of introducing all the background information needed to understand the world of the protagonists first, I have major events and character development unfolding before I have finished explaining even half of what’s happening in the backstory to the world it is taking place in. So instead of structuring my story around writing a long section of purely background, followed by the climatic events of the plots, and finishing with the character development, I have all three of these elements jumbled up together. This is in my opinion an unexpected strength to my writing for this story because something that sucks about some books, even canonical classics, is the tendency to spend the first quarter of the book explaining the backstory.
Thorns is a book I have been planning to write for a long time, and while I am at last writing it out, I already know a great deal of what I want to get to. In my quest to get it out though I’ve omitted about 4 or 5 characters so far that I had planned to introduce already. I might add them in over the next few months, or change my plans again and just not have them in the story. It has also occurred to me, that maybe it is best to start with only as many characters as I need and introduce new ones, even important ones, only when absolutely necessary. These challenges without any obvious answers to them are something that I think writers always have to struggle with.
Today, I took the step of writing out the plot to The Monk. That means the next 13+ updates have already been outlined. I did this because I am finding that my original aim of having a philosophical story with a minimal plot is actually quite dull. Character development and backstory just aren’t enough to carry an story forward. Even in Plato’s Republic there are stories within stories. Each of the main characters learns how to be a better sort of men, even though this is not explicitly stated as being the plot to the story: The Republic is a tale about Socrates fighting the forces of evil and succeeding at least four times over to make the world a better place. If the Republic didn’t have this subtle plot it is part to imagine it being as entertaining as it is.
In conclusion, I like backstory, I like plot development, and I like character development. I want my stories to have all these elements, and I want them planned out even though I find this quite limiting. I am ware that if I read 5,000 words straight on just one element of a story (plot, characters, backstory, etc…) to the exclusion of the others then I would probably feel bored to the point of putting the book down. My preference is to have bite sized portions of plot, character, and backstory each after the other. I think that’s because I like to process what is happening in smaller chunks and I can do that while reading the next segment.