There’s three stages to writing a book, plotting, plotting, plotting. Also, you’ll probably need to do some writing as well.
I know some people don’t plot, and while I wonder how in the world that works, I’m definitely a plotter. A big plotter. As in I fill up multiple spiral bound notebooks full of plot ideas.
Since I’m currently working on my current WIP, I thought I’d do a post about my plotting plans. What’s funny is this is a slight Augustus Caesar gender swapped retelling and it’s currently August which is named after Augusts, so this is a wildly cool time to plot this story. And start writing it.
All books start with these little ideas. And you have to grow each idea. Water it with more ideas.
I keep an ideas list. Basically, an everything I’ve ever wanted to write tab. I constantly grow this list.
Right now, here’s some of what the list looks like:
A book with mermaids set in Ireland. (and yep, I’ve already written this)
Something with civil wars and royal squabbling. Kind of like the English Civil War. ( I’ve written a 130,000 word draft that was loosely based on the English Civil War & French Revolution)
A book set in a time like classical Rome or Greece.
Something written in first person. (currently writing this! First person is not my favorite writing)
Something contemporary with lots of chai lattes.
A book that’s set in college. (Currently working on this amazing project!)
A book set in Europe/Philadelphia/the Carolinas
Something set during WW2 in Holland.
A book about Empress Xixi. Maybe historical fiction? Set in Beijing because it’s incredible and so inspiring.
So, yes, I have lots and lots of ideas. And I’m always getting new ideas.
Before I can really start plotting, I have to do some major research. But the cool thing, at least for me, about research is that it tends to bolster my creativity. The more I learn about anything, the more I want to write about it.
Like the time I was researching life in Holland during WWII. I learned that 3 years into the war, Dutch university students had to sign oaths of allegiance to the Nazis. 85% refused and HAD to go into hiding as result.
Can you imagine what that must have been like? Having to live in hiding at 18 or 20 years old? I also learned about underground newspapers and resistance groups made up of college age students. Not only do these stories inspire me, but it spurred me to plot a story based on their struggles.
And to clarify – many, many people lived in hiding and worked against the Nazis during World War II. Dutch college students didn’t suffer alone, most of the Dutch Jewish population was killed and the entire country suffered. I am inspired by the entire story of the Dutch resistance, the country wide strikes against German work orders, the forced starvation the country endured and the many people who worked against the Nazis.
All that to say, I love research. A ton.
Me when working on research
After I’ve researched, I start asking myself specific questions. And these questions fit into categories.
World Building Questions.
Since I’m currently working on an Augustus Caesar retelling, these are my current kind of questions.
Will this be more Roman – army & lands or more like Carthage – all about the navy and North Africa.
If I stick with Rome, I’m more subjected to the Roman history timeline. If I branch out with Carthage, this story can be more original and borrow elements from Augustus’ life.
And if it’s Romanesque – then I’ll be using the Roman/Greek mythologies & religious practices. Carthage had a completely different religious system! So I’d have to spend quite a bit of time researching religion in ancient North Africa. (Fun, right?)
Another question I have about world building are the different kinds of people in this story. Military folks. Political folks. Working people. What roles will these different classes of people play?
Now, it’s time to nail down some basic things about my characters.
Are they going to fall in love? What’s their goal in this book? Who really matters to the plot?
This is when I start thinking about things like character personalities. But I don’t tend to write character driven books, so I don’t know everything about my character’s personality when I’m planning the plot. But I am thinking about how this story will affect them emotionally.
Knowing what I know about my characters, now it’s time to nail down the fine edges of the plot.
Since I like to write the ending first, I tend to figure out the ending at the very beginning. I will probably actually write it first.
Do I want to plot a second book??? Because that’s what cliffhangers mean. And writing second, or third books means putting on easter eggs. Lots more planning. Somewhat of a headache. This is kind of when I need to know if that kind of planning is required.
After I outline what I think the story should look like, I ask myself particular questions. It’s a way of filling in any plot holes and completing the story content.
It this story maybe too political? Any story that’s an august Caesar gender swapping story is going to have lots of politics. I mean, this character has to become emperor somehow.
But writing about politics can be tedious for readers. Maybe boring to read.
I look at the story points of action and ask – How can I make the politics personal? My main characters need to be struggling against the system – but how are they doing that?
What points are readers interested in? What will draw readers into these character’s story?
So, yes, these means adding in “drama” – things like Romance and Death and Relationships. Fun.
Because of the way my brain thinks, I tend to know all the action stuff – this character dies, this king runs away, this person marries that person. But I don’t add in the emotional details that make this a story and not a history book until after I have the plot completely mapped out.
Part of that is knowing where my characters emotional journey is leading. Knowing how the story ends allows me to invest healthily in my characters emotions without making either the plot or the emotional journey feel fake or forced.
Alright, that’s basically all my plot writing work! I love plotting because when I start writing I know where I’m going and what I’m doing. My plot points are basically my road map to the entire writing project.
I also estimate how many words each plot point will take and that helps me know how far more I have to go till I’m done with the first draft!
I’m definitely still in the question/research stage for my latest idea and I’m hoping to finish plotting it out this month and start writing the first draft this fall!
Are you a plotter? Or are you a magical creature that can just write without worrying about plotting the entire project out before ever writing a word?
If you’re a plotter, what are your tips for successfully plotting?
Do you any enjoy researching for book projects? Or do you worry about research stuff after you’ve started writing?