This response is just one of the many long overdue we’ve had sitting and waiting, but I think it’s a good opportunity to talk about planning a story or series.
(Don’t) Divide, and Conquer the Planning Phase
So my anon asked a very specific question, but I’m going to summarize the point in generic terms that will break this down a bit. The first novel in this anon’s series seems to focus on building the character and her relationships with other characters, while the second novel seems to be about building the world. But my initial response to this is why can’t both novels address both of these concepts? Or better yet, why can’t these concepts combine to tell one, epic and cohesive story? Why two novels? Why not one?
Here’s my disclaimer before I dive into this. The method I’m about to talk about may not work for everyone, but letting go of this one thing might open up the doors to easier planning for you.
If you’re the type of writer who is big on structure and organization, you are also likely the type of writer that does not “pants” anything. You’re a planner, and you want to know what’s what before you start writing. You are likely the type of person that does chapter outlines ahead of time. If this approach hasn’t been working well for you lately, then consider dropping these “dividing” words from your story planning and focus instead on what I’m going to call “cooperative” words.
So what the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about words that denote a division of content:
- book ‘n’ (book 1, book 2, ect.)
Because planning a story is, you know, difficult, we like to put our ideas into objective concepts that don’t require too much creative thought. So we start putting random scene ideas into chapters before we’ve even planned much of anything. We try to think ahead of time how we’ll split up the content, when what we really need to do is think about how it will all work together.
In the case of my anon, this means placing two concepts into two separate novels as a way of organizing their ideas. The world they’re planning is probably intricate and full of details, while the character has a rich backstory with complex relationships that need exploring. With these two daunting challenges to tackle, it’s natural to try to split them up so you can focus on one at a time. But you’re actually creating more work for yourself by trying to completely plan two novels before you’ve even planned one.
These words refer to planning concepts that rely on other story content to bring it all together. These words can’t operate in a bubble. They need information from the story as a whole in order to work:
- inciting incident
- rising action
- turning point
- denouement (falling action)
Instead of looking at your plot outline and asking yourself, “What will happen in chapter one” ask yourself, “What will my inciting incident be?” Your inciting incident will get the ball rolling. It triggers the conflict. Most stories start by establishing the status quo for the characters; the inciting incident is the event that disrupts that status quo.
So when it comes to planning a series, don’t think in terms of what will happen in book one versus book two. Think about the narrative as a whole. Think about the end game. JK Rowling knew as she was writing Sorcerer’s Stone that Harry would eventually have to defeat Voldemort. Each novel in the series contributed to that end game.
It’s about planning a cohesive story that could be told in one book. Whether or not you actually do will depend on what you discover about your plot and characters as you’re working through it. Maybe one book won’t be enough. But if you’re uncertain of the basic elements of your plot, then you don’t have nearly enough information to make that call.
To My Anon…
With all that now said anon, my suggestion is to try to tell Kali’s story while also exploring the magical universe you’ve created. This is easier said than done so don’t get discouraged. As I said before, you’ve got two big picture concepts that are currently not working together. So start by asking yourself what the end game is in each case. What is the end game for Kali? How is she different at the end of the story versus the beginning of the story? And then what is the end game of the universe you created? How is it different than the way it begins?
Once you’ve determined the answers to those questions, work out how one will influence the other. Whatever end game you’ve determined for your story’s universe, Kali should have a role. And on the flip side, whatever end result you’ve decided for Kali, her role in the story’s universe should create a journey that gives her that end goal.
When you focus on telling one story that may or may not bleed into a sequel, the process of plotting it out becomes a lot simpler.