After reading On Writing by Stephen King and discovering the master storyteller doesn’t plan (most of the time, anyway), I started thinking about the planning process I use. I describe the process as iterative. I don’t try to plan out every detail or adhere slavishly to an outline (at least, I don’t intend to).
My first step is to create a concept, a one-pager that provides the 50,000-foot view of the novel. This is a step beaten into me and other members of my writing group by our dearly departed resident writer. I think it’s a useful document since it forces me to layout the entirety of the plot at a high level with only a handful of words. I have to carefully consider what the story’s key characters and plot points are. Now, to produce this document, I might write many pages of outline/thoughts/whatever. The trick is distilling the messy outline/thoughts/whatever into a compelling storyline.
The next step is to create a crisis summary sheet – basically, a numbered scene by scene outline focused on the action of the plot, a.k.a. crises. Again, another planning document hammered into me by the dearly departed resident writer. I iterate through this document several times. First, to make sure it makes sense in terms of plot. Next, I add the emotional arc of the protagonist and other prominent characters. Then I add scene instructions, just a fancy name for setting details like time of day, weather, architectural descriptions, etc. When this is all completed and done well, I have a nice outline of the story from start to end.
After that, it’s time to start on the rough draft. I’m not done with the crisis summary sheet though. Before I begin writing each individual scene, I take whatever numbered crisis I’m on and paste it at the beginning of the chapter. Then I outline that individual scene/chapter in detail. From that, I write the draft as fast as I can.
Throughout this whole process, I add characters to the character inventory and create character sketches for prominent players. Anyway, on my latest WIP, this is going marvelously. I’m writing the rough draft at breakneck speed, at least for me. I attribute the speed to successful planning.