To plan or not to plan; that is the question

I have to say there were times during the process of writing What is Left Over, After when I would have loved to have been one of those writers who have a full plot synopsis and a chapter-by-chapter plan before they begin. One of my uni students recently brought in to class a diagram that JK Rowling used to plan her Harry Potter books and, whilst I have no idea what half of the columns even mean – what is cho/giving for instance? – I’m sure if a plan like this makes you as much money as it’s made her, then it can’t be a bad thing. 

Alas, I’m a planner in every part of my life – except writing. But I’ve managed to convince myself that the lack of a plan in What is Left Over, After allowed some wonderful things to happen in the book. The character of Selena for instance.

Selena is a thirteen year old girl. When Gaelle, the main character in the What is Left Over, After, runs away to Siesta Park, she meets Selena and it is Selena who forces Gaelle to face up to the things she is running away from.

I was about one-third of the way into the book when Selena skipped onto the page. I’d never imagined a thirteen year old girl in my story. I don’t know any thirteen year old girls, I have only vague and unpleasant memories of being one. So I thought she might stay for a paragraph or two and then leave.

But every time I wrote a section set in Siesta Park, Selena would suddenly appear, in much the same way that she pops up in Gaelle’s life in the book, unexpectedly and somewhat insistently. She’s now one of my favourite characters in the What is Left Over, After. She’s also a character people often comment on; they say she almost leaps off the pages at you.

My second book, Bodies, has also evolved in a similarly chaotic and unplanned fashion. The character whose story I set out to write acquired a daughter along the way and it’s now the daughter’s story that is the most interesting. So I hope that planning a book as per JK Rowling isn’t the key to writing riches. If it is, I’m doomed to poverty.

One comment

  1. Pingback: “Pantsing” vs Plotting and Other Useful Literary Terms | While the kids are sleeping

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