When you think you might have enough material to start a plan, start a plan. It doesn’t matter if it comes together piece by piece–what matters most is that you’re working on it, and by working on it you’re writing the story in your head, and building a picture of how the whole work will come together from the individual elements. Don’t ask how–it just does.
Some writers don’t start with a plan, and if you don’t want to be constrained by a structure which drives you in a particular direction towards a pre-determined outcome, then that’s fine. But remember that with freedom comes responsibility, and you will need to monitor your focus and fidelity to your original idea as you proceed.
Some writers start with a summary, a page or two which tells the story from beginning to end, without any detail or description. This is the high-level story, which articulates the theme, and which may or may not also embody the chosen trajectory. This summary is then broken up into natural segments until you have a rough mapping of which elements of the high-level story are to be allocated to each chapter.
What often follows the summary is a chapter summary, which might contain a few words each on some or all of the following aspects of the story:
- Location – You can be general or very specific, depending on how much relevance to the story is embodied in the location.
- Time – If dates are important to the story, you can specify start and finish dates, otherwise a time interval for the chapter should be suitable (for example, 3 days).
- Characters Involved – You can list minor characters and/or major characters only passing by, and in bold the major characters involved.
- Mood – If you need a chapter to set a particular mood, either to adjust the mood from a previous chapter or in preparation for a succeeding chapter, you can specify it here to remind yourself.
- Narrator – Your work may contain a number of narrators, especially if different chapters are narrated by different characters.
- Plot Points – These might be specific events to have occurred by the end of the chapter, or you could even trace the development of sub-plots through the summary.
- Sub-themes – If you are exploring various sub-themes through the work, you can trace them through the chapter summary.
- Word Count – If you’re aiming at a specific word count for the work, you can specify a maximum count for each chapter so you can keep an eye on progress as you write.
As an example, the first couple of rows in a chapter summary might look something like this:
|Chap||Start||Finish||Characters||Location||Plot Points||Sub -themes|
|1||22/2/93||23/2/93||Sam, Rachel, Hugo, Noah, Palmer||Newcastle||Intro Sam, Rachel, Hugo, describe Mdina, conversations, intro Noah, Marengo call, Rachel/Palmer, vigil at chapel.||Perception, Intellectuality|
|2||23/2/93||25/2/93||Sam, Noah, Rachel, Sigrid, Hugo, Julia, Richard, Russell||Newcastle, Gosford||Freedom lecture, Sam/Noah reluctant communication, Sam/Rachel backstory, funeral.||Freedom, Love, Death|
One of the great benefits of having a chapter summary in your outline is that you can use it to plan your work before you begin writing, or even plan changes to the plot or structure or trajectory once you’ve started. Your summary is essentially a sketch which you can modify and adjust and tweak until you’re ready for the painting. As with any plan, you can follow it to the extent that you wish.