I have started writing a novel. I've done some character questionnaires for my main characters, and I've outlined the plot. I want to do this planning to keep my story from fizzling out, but I don't want to plan too much so that it takes the fun out of actually writing it. Is there anything else I should plan to manage this?
People clearly differ in the amount and type of planning they do. But I think it is important to bear in mind that in the end a novel is an expression of a vision. Its function is to create a vivid and compelling experience for the reader and while aspects of that experience can be distilled and described in abstract terms, the experience itself needs to come across to the reader as something real and substantial, something with texture, something felt and touched and lived.
To get into the state where you can write such a thing, you need to have a vision in your head of the experience you want to create, with all the vividness and substance that you want to convey to the reader. There will be much art and craft involved in making it as real to them as it is to you, but there is no way you can possibly make it more real to them than it is to you.
Your planning, therefore, can only work as an aid to imagination, as a tool for making the vision you are building as concrete and real as you need it to be in order to write. If you are there, then it is time to write. If you are not there yet, perhaps more planning will get you there. But perhaps more planning will keep you from doing the hard work of imagination that is needed to flesh out your vision. Only you can figure that out.
For other writers, though, writing is the only way to get there. The plotter vs. pantser dichotomy, insofar as it make any sense at all, is not, I believe, so much about working out plot as it is about gaining a clarity of vision. Some (it seems) can't write till they have it. Other can only get it by writing.
I believe that you've taken the correct approach in not wallowing over the planning stage. So much of the time, constructing a plot synopsis, writing out character profiles and such ends up contradicting the purpose that it was meant to serve - that is, it goes from acting as a guide and aid to being a novel in its own right.
Of course, that being said, ensuring that you have an outline of your plot, characters, themes, and so on is, I will stretch to say, almost required. In this instance, it really comes down to what you personally need in order to organize yourself. If you don't know how much that is, e.g. if you just need the cliff-notes, or a fully-pledge, wikipedia-like synopsis. Do more than is absolutely necessary and stop when it starts becoming tedious.
Perhaps, I should add, one should not stick too closely to plans - plans have the irritating tendency to get in the way of new ideas. Specifically to your question, Mr. James, I would leave your plan as-is and allow it to remain lucid. A novel changes a lot over the course of their writing - it is simply the consequence that how a novel should theoretically look like is very different to how will have to look like in practice. Indeed, sometimes is changes to the point that you get frustrated and bored of it - at such times, it is good to look back upon your plan to remind yourself why you started writing it in the first place.
Some advice I got when outlining my current project is that, in addition to outlining the plot and the characters, I can outline the plot hooks that tie each major section of the story together. This way, when I started writing, I knew which pieces of foreshadowing I needed to add and how each moving piece of the story fit together. So far, it has been very helpful.
Here are some of the questions I asked myself about each major plot point in my story:
- What is at stake during this chapter?
- What do the main characters win or accomplish?
- What do the main characters lose, forcing them to continue their adventure or return to this plot point later?
- What do the main characters learn?
I believe both @MarkBaker and @R.Rengold make good points in their answers. I want to address and add to @MarkBaker's last point about "The plotter vs the pantser" and the vision:
Some (it seems) can't write till they have it. Other can only get it by writing.
Heads-up: Personal experience from here
Some may feel a need to plot out everything before 'feeling ready to write the actual story'. If you're new to writing, this may be a very natural way of responding to "the challenge of writing a novel" - I felt this way, and spent more than 2 years plotting and world-building before writing the actual story.
I thought I needed to plan out every detail of my story in advance: Who did what when (and why) with what consequences, what the characters were 'like', how they related to each other, and what role they played in the bigger picture, when and how I would reveal the "secret" (science) and the list goes on (for 23 pages of points and notes).
Note: my genre is philosophical science-fiction (philoscifi), so I may need more world-building in order for my work to make sense.
But it wasn't a story, it was a plot
- A story revolves around the characters.
- We need get to know the characters, in order to feel the "important" events in the story.
- The characters come alive when you write about them.
It wasn't until I started writing - randomly following the characters I had sketched out - that their personalities and the actual story emerged. I didn't know the characters at all until I had written a good deal, and I'm still learning about them.
Now, I may be fortunately lucky with the following, but nonetheless: I started out writing seemingly random scenarios as a means of introducing my characters to the reader. Oddly, I kept writing seemingly random scenes that could then later be connected to the plot-points that I found crucial for the plot. The amazing thing: I was now able to connect emotion to the crucial plot-points, because the characters were naturally placed in them.
Knowing the characters makes it much easier to plot out the events in a way where the plot points and the greater plot makes more sense.
At first, I thought that everything I wrote had to be (and was) worthy of the final print - it's not.
BUT, even if it's not in the final print, everything you write (or have written) will help you in getting to know the characters (and their story) and thus isn't wasted. Luckily, most of what you have written will probably seem great until you've written something even greater and or clearer - making it easier to edit out the unnecessary parts.
Sometimes, something written about the character is edited out, but can be used later to create an authentic scene at a more crucial point in the story.
I/you/we/one/some will probably have to edit some large parts of the writing that end up being superfluous the the story, but I've never heard of a novel written from start to finish without thorough editing.
I hope the general advice and input is clear from the experience as described above, and that it only helps motivate actual writing!
I have a similar weakness to you in the potential "fizzle out" points of my writing. I've found that this comes from not knowing the specific next steps of the story rather than the total arc of the plot.
A trick that helps me is visual planning rather than writing a plot overview; I find pictures or quotes that inspire certain visuals or interactions, print them out and use them as anchors to leapfrog on to (think dramatic mountains, or an illustration of charging winged hussars, etc). By then time I have finished one scene, then next is already begging to be written because I'm excited about describing a certain place or piece of dialogue and I can build the thread of the story to that point, leading up with the relevane, foreshadowing and the tension.
I understand that this is a rather idiosyncratic way of hybrid plot-pantsing but I thoroughly enjoy writing in this way. It's cathartic.
The first steps you outlined are great.
I recommend you consider a short story that leverages key elements and characters in your outline as as your next progressive step towards the eventual full novel.
A few reasons why:
It's semi-instant gratification - it gets people engaged and reading your work much earlier. That type of feedback is incredibly useful for a new writer. It can help you refine the key elements that will be the building blocks of the full novel you envision.
It challenges you to be compelling and make everything you write count. Great short stories can be as short as 1,000 words. One of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories is only 1,444 words long, but it is amazing! That skill development will be important as you then undertake the full novel development.
It helps you develop the skills associated with self-publishing and promotion! Those skills are important to build awareness of your novel.
Best of luck!