Many writers will tell you that you should plan out the entire plot of your book before you start writing, essentially to storyboard the whole thing so that you know exactly what’s going to happen in your story before you even begin writing it. This is sound advice, but not the way I prefer to write. I like to let my words flow from my mind to my hands, unrestricted by a pre-made plan. At most I have a few vague events in mind, perhaps even a sketch of the end game. These things do help me, because I have an idea in mind of where I want my characters to eventually end up at the climax of the story. Beginning and end, all that’s left is to fill in the middle.
However, there is one thing I do first before I start writing and I feel that this is a very important thing for me to do. Before I start, I craft a clear image of my main characters, what they look like and how they think. I know my characters before I write, I know how they’ll react and I know what their aspirations are. That doesn’t mean that I won’t alter and tweak them as I go, but, for the most part, they stay true to how I’ve created them.
Next is the setting. I usually start by drawing a map of the location where the bulk of the story’s action takes place. It might be an entire world, a country, or even a single town. The latter of the three is what I did with Murder at the End of the World. I knew what the city looked like and I knew what major locations there were. So now I know not only who my characters are, but I also know where they can go and what they can do. I’ve placed boundaries upon myself and my writing, but have still given myself a certain degree of freedom to allow the story to unfold as I’m writing.
This way of doing things does have it downsides, of course. Sometimes I have difficulty in thinking about where the story should go next. If I had a plan to start with, that wouldn’t be a problem because I could simply refer back to the plan. There’s also the danger of the story veering off in a direction that it shouldn’t go in. That may sound strange, but the direction the story veers in may not make sense given what’s come before or it may be a direction that causes readers to become disinterested. If I’d planned from the start, I might have been able to catch this issue before I actually set down and wasted time writing it out.
I wouldn’t recommend this style of writing for everyone, but it’s what I feel comfortable doing. Any problems that come up can be eventually fixed later during the editing process, though that does take up extra time. On the other hand, I’ve had some interesting turns come up from this, turns that I might not have thought of if I’d just set down and planned the whole thing out while the novel was just a vague idea in my head. This style feels like it gives my more flexibility and allow me to let the characters and setting decide the flow of the story.