Planning a novel or a short story is a lot like building a foundation for a building or a house. If you fail to get the footings placed and the foundation laid well when you’re building a house or other building the building will be prone to shifting and buckling and will be less sound constructionally. If you fail to lay a good foundation in the planning of your novel the novel will be prone to shift, wander, and will often times be generally less focused. While it may start out well in the beginning cracks will begin to develop in the structure and the overall story will begin to suffer.
I want to focus on the big picture aspects of planning a romance novel or an erotic short story. My goal for this post is to lead you through a process of planning a story in a big picture sense–similar to putting in the footings and laying the foundation when building a building. Doing this work at the outset will usually result in fewer starts and stops and fits and struggles when it comes to the actual writing phase. Though it is still possible to hit a place at the middle where the story seems to crack and fall apart, even if you do this work, the chances of it happening are much less.
I believe this approach to planning will work for anyone, whether they are a plotter or a pantser. If you’re a pantser the information you will be gathering will help you to focus your stories and your characters so that you can move smoothly through the scenes necessary to tell your story. If you’re a plotter you may want to do more in the way of writing down, or charting the annswers to the questions posed here.
We will be starting with some broad brush strokes in terms of forming a story. During subsequent posts we will hone the idea, by talking about creating characters, plot, scenes, and other elements that make a story work. Today we’re really just planning where the foundation goes. 🙂
The first question to ask yourself is what kind of story do I want to write. Do I want to write a 700 page mega novel with a cast of many or do I want to write a category romance of 200 pages? Maybe you don’t want to write a novel at all. Maybe you’re aiming more toward the short story or novella market.
In any case, some thought about the general type of story you want to write is important at the outset.
Often the decisions we make when planning a story don’t make a better or worse story…they are like paths…and each path leads to a different story…not necessarily a better or worse story
Here are some questions to get you started:
What general type of story do you want to write? This is important because the answer to this question will determine many other things about your project — such as the length — the potential publishers — the type of characters you will need to people the story — the plot points you will need within the story.
What general length of story do you want to write? This is an important question because the length of a manuscript creates limits or expands limits on such things as the complexity of the storyline, the number of conflicts, the amount of detail that can be shown, the number of characters, the complexity of those characters, the amount of backstory that the characters can have.
Who publishes stories of this type and length? The time to think about who publishes the type of story you want to write is when you’re in the planning stage. As you are planning the story you will make many decisions that will impact the story’s salability for different markets. It makes sense to consider who will publish the story as well as where you would like to submit it. You want to consider these things and incorporate decisions around potential publishers with the decisions you are making that impact the salability. You do not want to impregnate your manuscript with a poison pill for the publisher that you most want to submit it to.
This is a good place to think about the elements of the story that most make it fit in with what the publisher(s) publish? It makes sense to ask, what elements can I add to make it fit better within those parameters? (Now–at the planning stage is the time to think about this.) What elements stray from what the publisher(s) publish? What elements can you remove to make the story fit the publisher better?
If you are happy self-publishing you’re still not off the hook. If you’re self-publishing you need to figure out which readers are likely readers of your book and what elements they are likely to like and which elements they are likely to be repelled by. Which publishers’ books are these readers reading? Their likes/dislikes are likely to be mirrored in the publishers they like/dislike. Know your potential readers. What lines are they reading? How will you appeal to them? Are there elements you can add to your story to appeal more? Are there elements you can remove to make it repel less?
What’s the over-riding theme or thesis statement for this book or short story? What will your story at it’s end prove? What message are you going to leave the reader with at story’s end?
In general this is an important question because it helps to focus the story. If the over-riding theme or thesis statement for your story is that love heals all wounds then you will need scenes that depict love healing wounds. At the end of the story your hero and heroine will have healed many or all of their wounds because of the love relationship they have developed.
If your over-riding theme or thesis statement for your story is that broken trust can be rebuilt then you will need to show scenes of the broken trust being rebuilt. At the end of the story your characters will have rebuilt the broken bonds of trust beween them.
If you’re writing a domestic discipline story and your thesis is spankings create boundaries and accountability within a relationship and some people find boundaries and accountability a positive thing in relationships then you’ll need to show scenes that depict this. At your story’s end you’ll likely want to show boundaries and accountability restored and this acting as a positive in the relationship between your characters.
Sometimes you don’t know the theme at the outset…or sometimes the writing is more an exploration of some facet of love or relationship. But you need some guiding principle that you are exploring within this story…something you are seeking to understand or to prove. This will help guide the plot, the characters, and will help to focus the story.
Often stories that are written without some kind of an over-riding theme or without the benefit of an expressed topic of exploration wander. The story becomes about showing the characters doing this action or that…. The reader then feels insecure because the story seems to have no focus…it seems to drift. Stories benefit from having a firm, solid foundation. Answering a few questions for yourself at the outset can help to create the foundation and focus the story…both for you as the writer and for the eventual reader. It helps to create a tighter manuscript in which every scene is important.