When I was thinking about what to write for my first article, I found that I had too much choice. There’s so much that I want to write about and this is only one post!
So I started planning the topics I want to cover and how I want to cover them, and then it hit me! Why not write about planning? It’s a very important stage to any literary work and there’s many different ways to go about it so here’s a couple of ideas to help you through! Now there’s a fair amount in this post so to help us prepare here’s Aquaman’s Rousing Song of Heroism!
There’s all sorts of ways and all sorts of different tools that people use to help them plan their books. You can find software to help you plan and keep tabs on different character storylines and timelines, you can go old school and simply have a notebook with all your notes in or even stick notes to your wall. So in an effort to try and help you with your budding story, let’s talk about some ways to make the best of planning your work.
Specifically this post is about SMART goals and the Snowflake method.
The basic premise of SMART goals is making your goals more realistic so that they’re more achievable. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
This is to make sure you don’t set yourself up with unattainable, impossible targets and feel bad when they go awry. For example if you think to yourself “Right! I’m going to sit down and write that novel I’ve always wanted to! So this weekend I’m going to sit down and do just that!” Even with a long weekend you’re unlikely to accomplish this goal. It’s a tad unrealistic, too broad and over too short a time period.
So instead, set yourself up with goals that you can achieve within time frames that are realistic. Let’s run through the five points and look at a couple of examples of setting goals.
“I’m going to write my book.”
This is an excellent goal, but too vague. By making this goal more specific and attainable within a set time frame it will greatly increase the likelihood of completion. For example, let’s change the specifics of the goal to “I’m going to write one chapter of my book…” now that’s a smaller chunk and is more easily achieved, we can also add the time frame “… this week.” So now the goal is; “I’m going to write one chapter of my book this week.” By changing the goal just slightly like this then it seems much easier to achieve and it will be much more likely that you’ll get there.
“I’m going to write 20,000 words today.”
Now this (maybe slightly exaggerated) example is specific but it’s not very attainable and the time frame is too short. If you had your heart set on the 20,000 mark then extending the deadline longer and breaking it up into smaller chunks is a good idea, for example “I’m going to write 20,000 words in 2 months.” So by giving yourself 8 weeks to write 20,000 words you only have to write about 400 words a day and you’ve achieved your goal. As this is quite a small number it also gives you some leeway to skip some days and make up for them on others, just in case life gets in the way!
So now we’ve had a look at how to set SMART goals, let’s look at one popular method of planning your novel.
The Snowflake Method
The idea of the Snowflake Method is that you grow your story like frost on a window, you start at one point and build slowly outward with more and more complex patterns. With this method you start off with the idea for your novel as a one sentence summary, move on from there to a paragraph, to chapter summaries and before you know it you’ll have your whole story!
Take some time and write a summary of your novel. It’s only got to be one sentence because this is the start of your snowflake, the spot where the frost grows outward and to make its intricate patterns.
So for the purposes of the SMART goals let’s specify it as this: “I will sit down for an hour and write a one sentence summary of my story.”
For the purpose of this step you should avoid character names and keep it as short as possible. Think of it as the one sentence you have to sell your book. For some examples, let’s take some of these sentences from the New York Times Best Sellers List:
“An Australian lighthouse keeper and his wife decide to keep a baby who has washed ashore.” The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
“Government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers.” Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
“An author of paranormal romances meets a man who seems to incarnate her fictional broken hero.” Until I Break by M. Leighton
Now you’ve got that sentence, it’s time to start building on and expanding it outwards. Set aside another hour or so and make the sentence into a paragraph. This paragraph will still be a summary for your story, so don’t think of it as a blurb! Try and have each sentence dedicated to a significant part of the story, so perhaps the first sentence will be the backdrop to the story, the next the first act, and so on and so forth. But even with this as the case, these should be the major plot points, so try and keep the paragraph to a five or six sentence maximum. When you’ve done this you should have a nice summary of your story.
Now for the next most important part of your novel; the characters. This step will help you take quick, but in depth look at your characters, which will be invaluable in creating a believable cast to tell your story.
Instead of being just one paragraph, the summaries of your characters are going to be whole pages, but split into separate parts.
We’ll start with the character’s name, and then move on to their stories and their motivations. If you find it helps you can make a copy print fill in all the details on this sheet, or print it out and fill it in.
So what are you filling in for your characters?
First off, the name. That should hopefully be easy enough. I always worry that people spend far too much time thinking about their character names, especially in fantasy and science fiction. Don’t wouldn’t worry too hard about what name best signifies your hero, try and pick one that you like and fits. So don’t pick a name like “Mr Slimers Geraldine McSpineless” for your upstanding stalwart hero, rather a strong name with a bit of punch, for example “Robert Baratheon”
Next, write a sentence describing that particular character’s storyline summary. This is only a sentence so treat it like this own characters blurb in the New York Times like we saw earlier. A quick statement summing up what happens in this character’s storyline.
Then a sentence about your character’s motivation. What drives them? What do they want? Try and use this sentence to think abstractly rather than concretely because we’ll come on to motivation. This will hopefully help you to see if your characters are driven by real wants and needs or if you’re just moving your characters forward to advance the plot.
Building on your character’s motivation, now write a sentence about their goal. Thinking about your character’s more abstract motivations, what does this have them moving towards? What do they ultimately want to get out of their experience?
So now we know their goal, what are you going to do to stop them? Well maybe not you specifically, but what’s the conflict that this character is facing? Remember that you should do this for all your characters, even the villains, so you can come up with a realistic goal based on the goals and motivations. If you do this you can make sure your characters are three dimensional and don’t do something purely to get the plot to a certain point.
And the final one sentence summary for your characters is going to be about what they’ve learned, what epiphany have they had at the culmination of their journey? What have they learned throughout their adventure? Of course this might not be as applicable, say if your characters die, or if you’re doing this exercise with your villain who only learns not to tangle with your protagonist.
But take all of that information and then put together a full paragraph summarising that character’s story. Do this in the same way that you did the paragraph for the story summary and before you know it you’ll have several pages of in-depth character summaries!
By doing all of this you will hopefully have a good lay out of all your characters and their plots, and then by extension your overall plot. When you’ve done that for all of your story and your characters take a few days out before you go back to them again, you’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make just taking another look from a fresh perspective.
Well fellow wordsmiths, that’s it for now! I hope that you’ve found this post useful and if you’ve got any questions or want a wandering eye to take a look at an excerpt of your work then don’t hesitate to get in touch.