Planning your novel
You have an idea for a novel — that’s great. Now, putting together a plan for it can help you actually see it through and make it everything you hope it can be.
Planning a novel requires conscious decision making. You’re creating a world. You’re creating lives. You’re creating realities. It’s serious business. (Better put on your kill-em-dead lipstick now.)
One way to make decisions while outlining, designing characters, and choosing the aspects of your novel’s reality: consider the question that Jeff Bezos asks himself:
Is this a reversible or irreversible decision?
With this straightforward question, you should be able to help prioritize the decision-making and better structure your plot, themes, and symbolism.
If it’s a reversible decision . . .
Simple decisions can be made quickly and changed later if necessary. Can the decision be reversed? or altered, even? Then make it quickly and get on with whatever you’re writing.
For example: You want to write a scene where two lovers are having a spat a restaurant. You ask yourself, “Well, is it an Italian or Mexican restaurant?”
Does it matter to the plot of the story? Is it something you can tweak later? Then don’t trip. Pick one and write the scene with the appropriate details – delicious menu items, atmosphere, pertinent dialogue.
Now, be wary. Don’t begin writing off all questions with, “Well, I can always change this later.” You will begin to overcomplicate your plot, and multiple revisions can and will lead to inconsistencies.
If it’s an irreversible decision . . .
Decisions with lasting effects should be given some consideration and development. Will this decision affect the story in more ways than one? Will it somehow trigger a domino effect in a web of tangled plot threads that you don’t want to see unravel?
For example: You want a character to stand out for her looks because of a scar or birthmark on her face. Then, in one scene, you attempt to put her in disguise without mentioning how that distinguishing characteristic is covered. If no one recognizes her and she isn’t caught, the reader will see the plot hole.
Choosing a physical feature or personality trait for a character (or setting) is irreversible unless you show why that character has changed.
If you portray and describe a father-figure character as nurturing and receptive, that is an irreversible and defining characteristic that the reader will expect to stay consistent, unless given reason to believe in the change.
Choosing a profession, hobby, or area of expertise for a character carries its own burdens of verisimilitude. The reader will lose belief in your characters (and you) if they don’t seem to know much about their own job descriptions, the fashion of their profession, the details of their so-called interests, or the social discussions of topics they mention.
Don’t say a character is a veterinarian merely so your character can have “a job.” If you’re going to make your character a medical doctor of veterinary medicine – someone who has dedicated years of their life to the study and care of a range of animals – you need to show personality characteristics and lifestyle choices that align with that job.
There’s nothing like reading a character who is supposed to be a social worker, or cop, or a teacher, and being able to tell that the writer has no clue what someone in that profession does.
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