Write to Plan, Plan to Write
copyright kim smith 2008
Writing is like going through the corn maze at Halloween. You’ll find more twists and turns and dead ends than you’ll know what to do with. A good way to prepare for this journey called writing(and especially for mystery writers)is to write to plan, and plan to write.
In order for you to write to plan, you must have somewhere to begin, i.e. a plan. I suggest beginning with some characters. You’ve had the idea of the story for a while, right? You think you have a good one, but do you know who will be the actors for this idea? Who’s going to tell the story?
Here in no particular order is a small list of things to consider as you write notes about your character:
1. Is the main character male or female?
2. What little quirks does the main character have that sets him/her apart?
3. Is this character flawed? Meaning, no one is perfect, so don’t make a saint out of your character.
4. What kind of background does he/she come from? Our history shapes us, and that should not be any different for your story people.
5. Does the character have any special skills? Hobbies? Careers?
You can take this small list and enlarge it until you know everything there is to know about your character, and you should know everything. You should know whether he is a boxer or brief man, or she is a tea and scones sort of gal. You should know all the way down to whether his great-Aunt Linda had diabetes, or her favorite pastime is grooming poodles. This helps you convince the reader of the real-ness of this character, and that always aids the reader in getting swept away by your writing until they are inside your story, a part of it.
Although you want to know who your characters are and how they would react in any situation, this is not always a good thing to enlarge upon with sub-or minor characters. You don’t want that shoe store clerk to suddenly steal the show, or the gardener at the small shop on the corner to appear larger than life. Keep characters in their place, and place them where they need to be, with only the on-stage time given based on their status in the story. In short, don’t give a two paragraph character two pages instead.
Writing to plan is easier if you have some idea of who is telling the story. For instance, is the gas station attendant, who has been accused of murder, telling the story, or is it from the point of view of the amateur sleuth? Maybe you prefer a more procedural approach to the story, so you are seeing the action (and so is the reader) through the eyes of the detective? Any viewpoint person will do, but you should ensure it is the right one, because, the person who only shows up at the annual Christmas party wouldn’t be the best POV person for a crime committed sometime in June, if you know what I mean.
Likewise, you should set the parameters of your character’s abilities so that they match his/her position in the story. It would be unreasonable to believe that a teacher of high school history would be able to lift fingerprints if we didn’t know that the fellow was once a CSI. There too, the more we know about our story people, the more even our writing will be, and when our writing is flawless, our readers zip through the book.
Next week, maybe I will cover the plan to write aspect :)