I tend to believe that if one is going to do something important, one must have a plan. For those of you who are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (there is a page on Wikipedia), my profile ends in a J (judging). This means that I tend to place a lot of emphasis on rational thought. My wife has a profile ending in P (perceiving), and she tends to be quite intuitive. I think it’s fair to say that most of us have some of both, and certainly both are useful to a writer.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Fishing in Foreign Seas was based on a series of dreams I had. Then, I added the story about the huge negotiation, which is, by the way, in many ways based on my actual experiences. There was not a great deal of planning involved in creating this novel, which switches back and forth between the romance and the negotiation. The chapters are divided by time period, with each period covering a stage in the development of the romance or the negotiation. So, for example, I didn’t really plan the chapter about Jamie and Caterina’s years in Philadelphia, I just knew what I wanted to say.
For Sin & Contrition, I had to plan the six main characters: their personalities, their values, their strengths and weaknesses. And I had to prepare a list of the sins they commit. After that, the planning was ‘on the fly’. When I wrote the chapter on bullying, I sat down and thought ‘who’s going to bully whom, why and how’. The ideas flowed, and I put them on paper. Not really a lot of formal planning.
My third and fourth novels are thrillers, and as such they had to be much more thoroughly planned. (The third, Efraim’s Eye, will be out later this year, and the fourth is about two thirds complete.) After all, one has to set the stage, build up the suspense and present the climax followed by the resolution. Efraim’s Eye is based, in part, on my experience with a charity in Mexico – although the novel is set in Morocco. Because of my experience, I knew what I wanted to say about the charity. But in presenting the terrorist side of the story, I had to lay out, step-by-step, how it would evolve. I also had to do a lot of research, which in many cases, led to alterations to the plot.
(Efraim’s Eye was published 24 September 2012.)
My fourth novel – about the drugs trade in Afghanistan and Iran – is not based on my experience. And here I had to start with a brief idea of what would happen. I then described each of the principle characters and their roles. This was followed by hours and hours of research. I could then lay out the plot, chapter by chapter, in some detail. But the process I’m using is organic. Before starting a new chapter, I’ll look at the outline for that chapter. Usually, it needs to be revised and more clarity added. This, in turn, may result in the need to change something I’ve written two or three chapters previously. And, it may result in changes to the outline of the later chapters. But once I start writing a chapter, the formal planning ends until the next chapter begins. Also, as the novel evolves, my perceptions of each character evolves and becomes clearer.
So, for me, planning has become a more essential function in the creative process. But planning has to be iterative and flexible. There has to be plenty of space for intuition.