My name is Carol, and I'm a pantzer.
Not. Any. More.
During the chaos that was my most recent manuscript, I vowed to never work that way again unless I had no choice. Life ran amok for a couple of years beginning right about the time I started on the manuscript. It was drafted in fits and starts, sometimes weeks or months in between short writing sessions.
The finished first draft bore no resemblance to what I'd envisioned originally. Characters had no pizzazz; story had no pop; the plot waved a white flag.
After much work, comments from my awesome critique partners, and returning to the drawing board about a million times, the story finally came together.
During the last six months of solid work, Shiny New Idea spoke up. I made notes. And notes. And more notes.
Off and on, while I was finishing revisions to my WIP, I tried out a few writing programs. I didn't find any I liked. So I made some Excel spreadsheets to hold all my SNI notes. So far Excel is working very well for me. I still have a lot of blanks and some unanswered questions, but I'm an organic writer - one thing grows out of another. One idea may fill in several blanks.
A couple weeks ago, I started working on a plot. OMG! This is the first time I've ever plotted anything before writing it. Before now, I've come up with a plot as I'm writing that usually needs revising, beefing up, and backtracking. This time I'm doing - or trying to do - all that first draft thinking before I write. My goal is to save myself a lot of time, confusion, and heartache. And to have a guideline to return to if life goes haywire again.
I had pages of circled words. Lines from one word to one or more other words. Crossed out words. Lists of words. Phrases. All in pencil.
How in the world was I going to keep track of everything? The main plot, subplots, clues. I don't like clutter. I like everything where I can see it. These two statements are not contradictory. I wanted a neat, tidy way to keep track of my plot and characters and story.
Remember this keeping track problem. I'll get right back to it.
Another thing I always have trouble with is getting a handle on the protagonist's voice. I'd decided early on to have her blog in first person - to a Word file - so I could hear her and start with the real her in Ch. 1 and not have to rewrite many times to finally find what she wanted to hide. I'd find that out as she blogged.
Last week both of these things came together.
I set up a Word document with a book fold - I see pages 1 and 2 at the same time, landscape across the screen. On my left is a bare bones outline for Ch.1. On my right is my protagonist's journal - maybe a blog later if I feel I still don't have a full enough grasp - for what is in Ch.1. So far her words are briefer than the outline. I like this because since I'm working with half a sheet for each I'm forced not to get too detailed. And I can hear/see the protagonist's voice reacting to what's happening with her in that chapter. It's a beginning.
I also made a little square and filled it with a different color for the main mystery plot, each subplot, and for clues - all clues, real, misleading or otherwise. I'm going to paste one or more of these at the beginning of each chapter outline so I know what's in the chapter. I'm planning for this manuscript to be told only from the protagonist's viewpoint, so I don't need to track who's POV I'm in. I'm also going to graph it out on Excel so I have an instant visual as I go along so I can see if someone or something is getting too much or not enough face time.
I'm a few chapters in. Will I continue with all of this throughout the planning process? I have no idea. If it continues to work as well as it has so far, I'm sure I will. If not, I'll tweak or experiment with a new method. The best thing I like about this is I can see everything for that chapter on one screen.
I hope I've explained this well enough you can understand what I'm doing. The idea isn't to get you leave your free-wheeling pantzer self behind or to suggest you give up your favorite writing software.
The take-away idea is to keep at a problem until you find what works for you. Keep at those revisions until your story is the best you can make it. And keep moving forward.
Never give up.