Last week, I posted about planners vs. free-writers, and some general notes on how to tell which one you are.
But, what if clear-cut planning isn't working for you? Or your free-writing muse seems to be sulking in a corner? What then? Well, there's a huge gray area between the two, and I believe this is where most writers land.
Let's take starting point. What do you start with when you sit down with a new story idea? Is it your main character? A major plot point? A high-level story idea? Next, how do you go about writing it? Are you having trouble getting started, but the idea of planning or plotting sickens you? Or are you having trouble making yourself stop filling out character worksheets and updating outlines, and just get going already? If so, then maybe you need a combination of the two.
The trouble is, finding a good balance can only be done through trial and error. Hence, it can take writers years to figure out what works for them and what doesn't. But here's a few generic combinations that might shave off some of that time.
The Road Map:
Plot based - know where your story is going. Simply put, this is a basic map of your story. It's not a strict outline, it's not detailed, it just highlights the major events that will happen before the end. This is probably for planners who want a bit more wiggle room than a detailed outline provides.
Character based - know where your character is going. Take your character and put him in a specific environment, then see what he does. If your character has already been defined and you know where he's going, this could be a great launching point for the more free-writing inclined. But it's also good for the planner.
Character based - know where your character is going. Give your character an object and see what he does with it. Same as above.
Character based - know where your character is going. Put your character in a specific situation and see what he does with it. Same as above.
Bird's Eye View:
Either plot or character based. This is similar to a pitch you would give to an editor or agent. It's the bare bones of your story, boiled down into one or two lines. For example, the pitch for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime would be similar to "An autistic boy investigates the death of a neighbor's dog." This one probably has the most wiggle room of all. And, depending on where you put your focus, you can take off with your characters or you can take off with your story. And you can use as much or as little planning as you like.
All of these could also be used as brianstorming exercises for writer's block. How fun! :)
So if you're muse isn't cooperating, then maybe use one of these to give her direction. Or, if you can't stop planning, then maybe use one of these to just get started, even if it's not exactly in the right direction. Combinations work, too. Try new things, pay attention to what's working and what's not, and pretty soon you've have found your groove.