Planning Your Writing: 4. Useful Planning Documents

Planning Your Writing: 4. Useful Planning Documents
By Norma J Hill (aka Pen and Paper Mama) © 2021

In our previous series for writers, we discussed and provided worksheets for “Self Exploration For Writers,” “Your Writing Life,” and “Author Considerations Beyond Just Writing.” In this new series, “Planning Your Writing,” we will explore:

  1. Research
  2. Target Audience, Genre, and Purpose
  3. Seeking Help
  4. Useful Planning Documents
  5. Style Guides & Manuals
  6. Developing Creativity and Story Skills
  7. Personal Style Sheet

At the end of each post in the series, there is a link to a downloadable and printable PDF copy on which you can write your responses. Put them in a binder or Duotang-type report folder (you can continue to add to your binder from the previous series). Then, periodically along your writing journey, return to your answers, read what you noted previously, and add new thoughts and experiences. Through this process, you’ll end up with a wonderful record of your writer’s journey.

4. Useful Planning Documents

Have you prepared an outline, query, synopsis, and/or blurb for your fiction work—or a detailed formal proposal for your nonfiction work? These documents can provide an overview of your purpose and plan, story arc, theme, thesis statement, point of view, audience, and so on, which will help with both your writing and editing. They are especially important for book-length documents. As you write, you’ll be able to refer regularly to these documents and keep on track.

You might at some point decide you need to change directions in your document. If that happens, first look at these planning documents and make changes in them before you make changes in your manuscript. Remember that even a small change can affect the rest of your manuscript, so think carefully about making changes, especially big ones. If you don’t know how to prepare these planning documents, there are excellent books and articles available with detailed information, or you can seek guidance from members of your writers’ group, from a workshop, from a writing coach, or even from a developmental editor.

Outline: There are many different kinds of outlines you can use to plan your manuscript. Which ones you choose will depend on what format (fiction, nonfiction, screen script, etc.) and genre or subject you will be using, as well as what kind of outline appeals to you personally. You might use a traditional outline list (alphanumeric and/or decimal: writing a thesis statement, numbering your main points, then listing sub-topics and evidence, and finally writing a conclusion statement); an outline template (there are many different template options available online; choose one that most closely resembles your project’s needs, and then “fill in the blanks”); a flowchart (arrow outline); mind maps (visual outlining); starburst (with rays for who, what, where, when, why, and how aspects of your ideas); concept maps; and more. Look up examples of each of these. Which kind of outline would work best for you and for your specific project? Why?  What are your outline needs? Jot down, here, the outline style you want to try and briefly list your key points:        
Synopsis: This is a concise and brief, yet comprehensive description of your manuscript, including a summary of your story’s main plot, sub-plots, and the ending, along with a few character descriptions (especially the protagonist and antagonist), and a summary of your main themes. Include the main conflict and the five basic parts of the narrative arc (exposition, including inciting incident; rising action; climax; falling action; resolution). Write it in the third person point of view, and in present tense. It should also reflect your personal writer’s voice. You’ll probably need to write and rewrite (and trim and trim and trim) this synopsis until you get it down to between 500 and 700 words. It needs to include all this important information and also hook the reader’s attention. When you’ve succeeded, you’ll be well on your way to writing a great story! If you’re writing nonfiction, you can write a similar synopsis, but focus more on the main ideas and formatting you will use. List your key points here:          
Query: A query letter is sent to magazine editors, literary agents, or publishing houses to propose a writing idea you have in mind (usually for an article or short story), or which you have already written (usually a book). While many writers don’t create a query letter until they’ve written their manuscript, if you write one before you start writing, you are creating an excellent guide to follow yourself as you write. The query letter should ideally be just one page in length (200 to 450 words), and succinctly provide the following information: your manuscript’s genre/category (which includes your target audience); word count; and title with subtitle; a succinct and interesting description of 150 to 300 words with the key points of your story or topic (you may use a summary of your synopsis); a short biographical note about why you are a good writer for this manuscript, and/or a short list of writing you’ve had successfully published in the past. Can you do this? Give it a try … and keep rewriting it until you feel that it accurately describes your manuscript and will attract a reader’s attention. Start by listing key information here:            
Blurb: A blurb is a short piece that accompanies a written work—the short description you find on the back cover of a book or on a book’s online bookstore page. It always includes a short summary of the book (for a novel’s plot, don’t include the climax and resolution; you just want to get readers interested so they’ll read the story to find out what happens. For nonfiction, include information about why the book is important to potential readers). It may also include short quotes from the work; a short author bio; or catchy reviews of just a few words. Go to a library or bookstore and read the blurbs on at least half a dozen to a dozen books that are similar in some way to what you plan to write. Then use the ideas you’ve gained to write a blurb for your book—and memorize it so you can also share it orally with people who ask, “What is your book about?” This oral description is known as an “elevator pitch” and you should be able to “pitch” it in 15 to 30 seconds!  Use this space to list the information you will include in your blurb.    
Nonfiction proposal: This proposal is a plan you send to a publisher or literary agent, describing your idea for a book you want to write. If you have already created an outline, synopsis, and blurb, you’ll find the proposal easier to write. A proposal is a much longer document and has strict rules to follow. Whole books have been written on how to write a nonfiction proposal. Most proposals include: the book’s title and subtitle; genre; word count; an analysis of other similar books and where this one fits in (a comparative title analysis); the target audience/market; your marketing plan (what you will do); your author bio; your business case (why you believe the book will sell well); a chapter outline or table of contents with a brief summary of each chapter; and a strong, well-written sample chapter that shows your writing ability. Writing a nonfiction proposal is a lot of work, but even in you’re going to self-publish instead of seeking a traditional publisher, you will now have an excellent plan for your whole path: writing, editing, marketing, publishing. Do this!

Putting your notes into practice:

If you did not create these documents before writing your first draft, stop and do them now before carrying on with self-editing your work. You might think these items are only for the use of an agent or publisher, but they can be very helpful for you as a writer, making it clear in your mind exactly what you hope to write about, and giving you guidelines to follow and help you stay on track. They’ll also be helpful for your writing team members (feedback group, beta readers, etc.) and your editor as they critique your work and give you advice.

By the way, don’t worry if you find, as you write, that you’re starting to take another path. Just stop and compare what you are writing with what you planned. Is there a good reason for the alternate path you’re taking? If so, adjust these planning documents to fit your new path. But if you realize you’re just on a “rabbit trail,” use the documents to get back on track.

PDF LINK: Planning Your Writing: 4. Useful Planning Documents

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