"There's only two sentences."
"Uh ... yeah, that's as far as I got," I said.
"You can brainstorm in two sentences? Amazing."
I had to laugh.
Other times, I write a plot summary that is three pages of size ten font. Every single detail is mapped out, and some of the dialogue is even recorded. I look at it and think:
"Wow. That's sorted. Now this should be easy."
Huge lie. I start writing the book, and by page three, I realise everything's fallen apart.
So how much planning should we do? I have no clear answers on this topic, other than: whatever works, works. But I had a brainwave the other day about why my plot summaries fall apart, and it was actually quite a positive thought. So I'll share it with you, because it's Christmas, and it's time to be positive.
My plot summaries always fall apart because my characters take over. I told someone this once, when I was at a camp. There were three of us girls in the bathroom, and we were putting on make up and chatting life. I mentioned that I wrote, and I was asked if I was planning sequels. I told both girls about my seven book series (God willing), and they said:
"Wow, do you, like, plan everything out?"
"Yeah," I said. "My characters ruin it," I realised out loud.
Both girls started laughing.
"Naughty!" one of them said. "That's so naughty of them!"
They were laughing for ages. I don't know why it's so funny. It's actually really annoying when you're the writer.
But what the heck would a book be without characters? Some of the most frequent feedback I got from publishers about my first book was:
"This book is too plot-driven, and not character-driven. We are not looking for this sort of read currently."
Plot belongs to the old days, in one sense. It's been a long time since any modern author who makes a few dollars has sat down, planned a book, and followed the plan down to the last word. Today, we're all about the characters. We're about people that are very human. We're about flawed protagonists and conflicted villains. So is it really such a bad thing, for your characters to overrun your plot?
It's not the worst thing in the world. You shouldn't allow them their heads in everything, but maybe just once in a while, we should try getting to know our characters before writing a plot summary. Maybe the best thing we can do is get into their minds and hearts, and understand what drives them. If you do, you're halfway toward having a suitable plot. A plot, as we know it today, is little more than particular characters clashing, or meeting and forming a bond of companionship - or both.