Thursday 30 July 2020

Who Knew You Could Over Plan a Story? By Tamsin Cooke

I am a plotter. I need to know where my book and characters are heading, otherwise my story flails about, not really going anywhere. In the past, I’ve tried to be a pantser. I’ve let the story evolve and flow from my fingertips … into a jumbled mess!

So I like to plan. And I REALLY planned my last story.  I got a sudden strike of inspiration – the sort that you dream of.  The gem of an idea rushed into my brain, seemingly out of nowhere.  I quickly jotted down my ideas – the basic plot, a character arc of the protagonist. I researched certain aspects I knew nothing about. And that is where I should have left it; that is when I should have started writing.

But no. I decided to GO FOR IT with my planning. I worked out every scene, twist and sub-plot. I knew the goals and flaws of ALL my characters, however minor. I filled a notebook with my ideas, even creating story arc diagrams to make sure I was on point. At last, the whole story was mapped out with no tiny details left to evolve.  

Now I was ready to write, and I couldn’t wait. After all, I loved this story idea … except it wasn’t a story idea anymore. It was a whole book, completely visualized in my head.
And when I came to write the first draft of the story, I found I couldn’t.

Normally my first drafts come out like word vomit – puke erupting from the keyboard as the story hurtles onto my screen, ready for me to edit afterwards. 
Terry Pratchett said, ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.’

The problem was that I’d already told myself the story. I knew everything, so there was nothing left to uncover. Instead of puke flowing, it was painful to get a sentence out. Because I wasn’t worrying about what the characters would do and where they’d go, I was worrying about the prose. It wasn’t creative or fun. It was a chore. I slaved away on this story for a few more weeks until I realized that the spark had well and truly gone.  I’d killed the excitement. And if I wasn’t finding it exciting, then I knew a reader wouldn’t. 

And so I parked my wonderous best-selling idea. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to return to it one day, when I'm exhilarated about the story again.  I've hidden my notebook and left only a brief outline for me to discover. (I couldn't bring myself to actually destroy my notes.)

Luckily, inspiration struck again, and this time I know how to plan the story. I’ve worked out the sweetspot for me. I give myself just enough information, so I know the direction of the story and how my protagonist transforms.  I write a one-sided synopsis. Nothing more!

I’m about to start writing the first draft, and cannot wait for the words to cascade into a wonderful waterfall of vomit.

Tamsin Cooke
Author of The Scarlet Files Series and Stunt Double Series
Twitter: @TamsinCooke1 


Anonymous said...

I do so sympathise with this one. As frustrating as I find it sometimes NOT to know what's going to happen next - I can be stymied for days - knowing everything in advance just kills it for me too. Although I do need to know the ending before I start; I do need that.

(Ken Follett, on the other hand, says he plots the entire book in detail in advance and doesn't start writing until his editors, agents and family are all agreed on ever detail. Then he writes ONE draft!)

Ness Harbour said...

Oh I get this totally. I am having a similar issue. It is so hard. I need to go back to my normal way of writing a mix of pantsing with a sprinkling of plotting. Good luck with your inspiration

Nick Garlick said...

Apologies,Tamsin. I wrote the previous post; just forgot to add my name before submitting it.

Tamsin Cooke said...

Hi Nick/Anonymous,
Thank you so much for your comment. I truly thought a detailed plan would help, but I guess it makes sense - creativity needs to breathe and flourish. Like you, I do need to know the ending though. But sometimes, I've had a choice of two, and my characters decide.

That is fascinating about Ken Follett. He's not only telling himself the story, but others too, before he's even written a word. I am in awe, if not envy, that he only needs to write one draft. If only!!!

Tamsin Cooke said...

Hi Ness,
Thank you so much for your comment. I'm sorry you're finding this so hard as well, and I hope you find the perfect mix of pantsing and plotting. I wonder if we all did it naturally at the beginning but than second guessed ourselves. I know I did! I wish you lots of luck with your WIP.