A continuation from 6 Tips on Finding Your Writing Muse:
4. PLAN IT. PLAN IT. PLAN IT. This is the most important tip of all. You see, the key to starting any successful endeavor is to start coming up first with the BIG PICTURE. Your Plan is the framework, the anchor, the map of your work. Without it, you will drift away to a land of uncertainty, never reaching your desired destination. And if you do reach something, you hardly know what it means and have a hard time explaining or justifying the mess you’ve made. With messy work, you’ll get mercilessly attacked for your scattershot effort OR you get lucky OR both. This is, for me, what happened to the Twilight series of Stephenie Meyer. She was obviously both. She started the first story by seeing it in a ‘dream’ (that’s what she recently told Ellen), just typing away in the computer, putting into words what were obviously fantasy ramblings of a bored housewife, without using much of a mental map. In her books, there were a number of times that she mentioned that she suffered from writer’s block. This was clearly an admission of a lack of a plan. If a writer has a plan in the first place, then he or she will know what to say–plain and simple. It was unplanned, hence, her story plots got messier and messier as she reached the final book, Breaking Dawn, which was described as a disappointment and an ‘epic fail’ when it came to story development. Anyway, as I said, she was lucky that majority of hopeless romantics out there ate her words like cotton candy even if her stories were the result of come-what-may-I’ll-cross-the-bridge-when-i-get-there writing strategy. You may argue–“Well, who cares if her stories were atrocious, she’s now rich, isn’t she?” Right. And instances like that is a good thing to reflect upon in the life of an artist–choosing which path or direction to take. An artist has to choose–settle for real integrity or plain dumb luck? Which would you prefer to be known for–carefully prepared works but painstakingly slow (as in Van Gogh slow) recognition of your unique, real talent OR be known for churning out average, formulaic, run-of-the-mill outputs yet assured of overnight success and a zillionnaire-lifestyle? I advise you to answer this, and check your values first before you start calling yourself an artist. Whichever path you choose, it’s fine. The important thing is you’re fully aware of this decision which you will have to eventually and inevitably own up.
Back to the writing tips… You may start planning using different approaches, depending on your own style when it comes to brainstorming ideas. One may start with one thing or the other:
a) Language. You may determine your level and scope of your unique language first. How do you tell a story? Do you prefer using simple words or sophisticated language; technical language or universal?
b) Audience. Find the audience you know who is comfortable or more suitable with this language that you chose (children, young adults, women or men only, the discriminating sophisticated few or the masa or general public?). This is important because it will set the tone of your narrative, and the level or depth of the story. (Always bear in mind your audience when you’re writing the story by picturing them in your head, pretending you’re talking to them. Like right now, I’m picturing you, the reader, in my head as I write these series on writing tips. It helps because the words flow quite easily, and I constantly make sure if I am making sense to you or not, wondering if you can understand well what I’ve been saying so far by going over my words and continuously reflecting as often as possible.)
c) Story Elements (Genre/Plot/Setting/Characters): (Again, these may come in a different order, depending on what you think you could prioritize first) Come up with a genre (romance, comedy, adventure, suspense, tragedy, drama or combination of these; fantasy or reality-based); Construct the gist or the plot or the angle (think of the conflict, a problem, an issue that needs to be resolved–or not, if it’s a tragedy); Decide when (present, past or future) and where this conflict could took place (write what you know–your own hometown, village, city or country is ideal and usually recommended for starting writers); and finally, decide on the characters who will help bring out and realize all these elements (at least finalize on the major characters; other minor characters can be conjured up once you’re in the writing process). Be sure to take time in planning and finalizing the elements–it is difficult to visualize the story flow if you’re still undecided on these basic elements.
d) Story Flow. This is where organization is required. Get a piece of paper and make a timeline. Divide the timeline into stages and substages: the start or the introduction (like the opening scene of a movie, you’re setting the stage for the reader, and a lot of descriptive narration happens here); the middle (which includes the beginnings or the gradual revealing of the problem or the building up of the conflict, the resolution or climax, and the events that happened after the conflict was resolved); and the ending or at least an inkling of it. If you feel your story has the makings of an epic, then consider a series, but still bearing in mind the final phase of the story (which includes the climax or resolution) since that will guide you through the long and arduous writing process like a lighthouse in the night (you know where you’re going). But even if you have a plan, it is not yet perfect so constantly reflect on all aspects of it–what will work, do away with the trite and the clichéd and the predictable angles, and reflect on how you can make it different as much as possible from other published works that you’ve read.
This was why JK Rowling’s HP book series were a well deserved success–both commercially and critically. Unlike Meyer, Rowling had it all planned out right from the start–knowing how it will all end. From the very beginning, she had a map and a destination in mind by already deciding and mentally constructing the ultimate fate of the major characters, and stuck with it. That was why the trip albeit extremely long was so much fun–you know that Rowling will not waste your time and money; she made sure you enjoy the wait and the journey to the final place that was already a sure thing. I felt secure, assured of the fact that she knows where she is taking us and felt sad when it was all over. I would prefer to have her in charge of the helm than a million uncertain Meyers in the world. Same goes for Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy, and well…Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, too–all well-thought out, planned out and organized.
To be continued: 5th and 6th Tips on Finding Your Writing Muse.