When I plan out a novel, I plan in broad strokes. Before I start writing, I usually know where the story starts, where it ends, who the characters are, and all of the major incidents or locations along the way. There are some exceptions – when I was writing The Chimney Rabbit, the whole sequence with Captain Sock and the pirate ship the Salty Dog came to me just as Giovanni and Pezzley were drifting out to sea. In the end, that detour ran to four chapters and about 14,000 words, a significant proportion of the book. It’s also one of my favourite sections, and now I can’t imagine the story without it – Captain Sock and the Salty Dog have had wide-ranging repercussions not just for The Chimney Rabbit but also for the sequel, and even the prequel.
But in general, when I start to write, I have all the locations and events planned at a high level. What I don’t do is plan the details. My plan will have something like “Protagonist comes up with escape plan”, but it’s only when I actually come to write that chapter that I flesh out the plan with details like “Protagonist steals a teaspoon and digs a tunnel”. I find that doing things this way helps me keep the writing process fresh, and lets me react to how the story and characters have developed.
So when I’m coming up to one of these unresolved, fuzzy plot points, as I am at the moment with Tales of the Ancient Rabbits, it’s quite often a matter of slowing down, stopping thinking directly about the story, and waiting for inspiration to strike. If inspiration doesn’t strike, I can just write through the situation – I can come up with some mechanism to resolve the plot, even if it isn’t quite as dramatic or thrilling as I intended – but it’s so much nicer when an idea pops into my head for how to get things moving in a neat and stylish fashion.
With my current plot point, I’ve got an issue where I want my protagonist to get past an obstacle through some sort of ruse rather than unrealistically and violently punching his way through – I’ve already had him solve a problem with his fists, and he’s starting to come to the realisation that there are other solutions, and this is a character trait I really want to develop. On the other hand, it would be really handy if someone could get punched right at this point! So I was particularly pleased when the solution came to me as I was driving home from work this evening – the protagonist’s clever deception, followed by someone else doing the punching. And it just worked – it got past the obstacle, it allowed my protagonist to develop, and it also provided more conflict and intrigue with the person who does the actual punching.
Friday nights are blog nights, not writing nights, but as soon as I got home, I wrote down my ideas in Evernote so I wouldn’t forget. The only thing worse than inspiration not striking would be inspiration striking, then forgetting it before you managed to get it down on paper.