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Creative story planning

Creative story planning header image

This month, I have an update on general life and personal writing, followed by a quick discussion on creative story planning, and why it’s blowing my mind.

May 2019

It’s been a strange month in the Hurst household as we get to grips with becoming parents.. Late nights and disturbed sleep have impacted on my writing, although it’s been less than last month, and things are getting better as we figure out what we’re doing. I now have to buy clothes for a baby girl though, something that still confuses and terrifies me.

An example of the decisions I now have to make. My life has definitely changed.

The biggest decision I made this month was to start a new project. This was a big step for me, because I’ve been writing my False Sanctuary novel for almost two years now. However, a combination of some honest feedback and a capitulation to the feeling that, deep down, the story wasn’t quite working, has meant that I am starting again with something new.

Giving up wasn’t easy. It’s not something that I do lightly. I’m not ruling out returning to the story at a later date. It’s just that right now, it’s not where I want to put my attention. Instead, I’m going to keep blogging, and start something new.

Wish me luck…

Creative story planning

What on earth is story planning? And why am I writing a post about it? I’ve been a ‘pantster‘ for as long as I can remember, even when others have sat me down and demanded that I plan out stories. However, after the car crash that was my latest novel (more on that below) I’ve decided to really plan out my next story and to force myself to keep as close to the outline as possible. The first obstacle I had to overcome, however, was the nagging feeling that story planning wasn’t writing.

Planning can be colourful. Image from Felipe Furtardo on Unsplash.

After planning for a week I had a revelation. Planning gives you a way to be creative that writing out the prose could never achieve, partly due to the speed in which you can make changes.

Speed of change

Pantsers never know where their writing is going to take them. I was the same. The reason that False Sanctuary was such a confusing story was because it didn’t take it’s final form until I’d worked through a number of drafts. I’m not talking about changing chapter order, or moving a scene around. I completely changed everything multiple times – including the use of flashbacks, the order twists in the story were revealed, and when characters were introduced.

There’s nothing wrong about that. I’ve changed things around in previous stories and scripts and they have worked out well.

The problem with changing the order of my story when I’ve already drafted a lot of it is that it can take a long time. Once I have moved the chapters around (which with the likes of Scrivener and OneNote can be really quick) I have to read through the whole thing again to make sure that it all still makes sense. If moving forward in the story I need to be careful that characters don’t discuss things that haven’t happened yet, or reveal things that they are yet to discover.

In short, it’s a bit of a pain. And definitely time consuming. For me, with baby and jobs and garden and everything else, time is my most precious resource!

Small amount of time. Geddit? Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

For this new story, however, I wanted to do something different. So I decided to test out some creative story planning and put the story in a spreadsheet. This means that, as I was working through the order I was going to introduce complications and conflict, I was able to change things around quickly. I’d noticed an inconsistency, or a way to build tension, much earlier in the process. It’s much, much quicker, and saves me a bunch of rewriting, as well as cutting down the risk of plot holes.

Why spreadsheets are creative

While it might seem boring to plan out the story in such a defined way, I’ve found that it really helps me be more creative. I’m more willing to take risks with the story, to add things in and take them away, knowing that doing so will only take five minutes.

When I’m writing, my creativity is linked to taking risks. Stories in which I’ve taken a few risks, whether that be with the setting, narrator or storyline, tend to be more rewarding to write and more interesting to my readers.

Rather than stifling my creativity as I feared, I’ve found the plan to be a great way to put ideas down, then change them quickly. It takes away the negative impact of doing something ‘wrong’.

That’s fixed. But what about that? And that? And… Image from giphy.

Planning in this way also allows me to see my story in one place. I can see the problems in the story, see the plot holes and the dips in the narrative. With this overview I can then remedy things early in the process, before they become massive issues half way through the writing of the novel. I can look for creative solutions on a macro scale, fixing things en masse and preventing a domino effect, where fixing one problem just leads to another bigger one later in the story.

The next challenge

My next challenge will be writing the story using my spreadsheet as a guide. I’m determined to keep to what I’ve written down but I know what I’m like – I’ll try and add little cool bits in, or change something here and there to keep me interested. If that happens, I’ll drag myself back.

At least, that’s the plan 🙂

2 thoughts on “Creative story planning”

  1. Phil, this is a great article. I can relate to everything that you said. Early on in my beginner writing stages, I struggled with building a solid story plan and it was detrimental to my book projects. I would finish a book draft, only to realize that I’ve made some terrible mistakes along the way. I tried to fix the problem by rearranging and deleting scenes or chapters, etc. Unfortunately, none of those approaches was effective. The problem was that I didn’t have a strong story plan, as mentioned in your post. I must admit that know I am careful to build a strong story line and the results have been remarkable. Thank you for sharing this article.

  2. phil@philhurstwriter.co.uk

    Thanks Derrick, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Apologies for the slow response (there’s a good excuse coming up in my next post!)

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