The way I start the "pre-production" work on a novel (note: novel, not non-fiction - that's a different beast) can vary. Sometimes, I will have the bare bones of the plot and just get writing, figuring it out as a I go along (also known as "pantsing" or "winging it") with no strong fixed outline. This works well if I can totally immerse myself in the story and ignore all those other life things that crop up, get my head down and write fast, quickly coming up with the storyline.
Other times, I'll have a more detailed plan to get started with (like this one here on the left) and I'll stop at certain points and figure out where the story is going and what elements I need in the story to get there. A detailed plan can be important when writing series to get the structural elements of the novel right, ensuring consistency and coherence as the novel and series progress. In the case of the Lexi series, that means looking at the primary plot, the secondary or sub-plot, and the character arcs.
I thought I'd show you one of my favorite ways of doing that! The image included in this post is my current plan for Lexi #13. It doesn't look like much because I've turned over the notelets as I know eagle-eyed readers will zoom in and look at the action and I don't want you to know it yet!
Starting from the top right, those chunks of cut-up paper have chapter details: intentions for location, characters, and the core dialog. I know my novels need certain elements: snappy dialog, comedic elements, action, poignancy, terror/fear, romance, exasperation, confusion, red herrings and so on. Each of the notelets represents a scene that I've identified as needed for the book. I'll move these around until I figure out where they need to be in the book and then divide them into chapters so no chapter is too "heavy" or too "light". For example: I'm not going to have the big "whodunnit" reveal scene at the beginning so I'll move that towards the end. A large piece of action will precede that reveal but it's case of do I begin with that action for an immediate adrenaline-based startline or does it come towards the middle or nearer the end. How does Lexi recover from the action? Who does she speak to? What does she do next? When is the right time to insert some romance? Should comedy fall after a moment of terror or do I have several scenes between them?
Crucially, nothing is immovable. As I write, and the novel progresses and becomes fuller, I change these scenes around for maximum impact, or in some cases, cut them altogether. Towards the end of writing the first draft, I might even go back and write extra scenes that I've identified as missing for the purposes of explanation and driving the plot forwards. I'll probably go back and drop extra clues in to. Sometimes, I might not be sure how to segue from one scene to another, in which case I don't want to stall my writing schedule so I'll just leave myself a note to write another scene and then give myself time to think about it as I continue on.
I hope you enjoyed seeing how "pre-production" works for me and now I'm going to spend a few minutes turning all those notelets over so I can get back to working out the novel structure and dividing everything into rough chapters. Oh, and if you are eagle-eyed you might be able to see the working title at the top of the image!