When I got the book deal for the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series from Scholastic, I knew I wanted to take care in setting up the first book, so I could use it as a formula for all future books in the series.
Formulas aren’t bad, you know. Formulas only become a problem when you look at them and think, “That seems awfully…formulaic.” But if you use them to create a structure, it’s fine, and you have lots of room to play within a comforting system that tells you what the rules are.
The formula I’m using for the books is the Nine-Box Method of Planning a Novel, which is helpfully explained in that link by Deanna Roy, and which was something my writing/critique partner/bestie Carter Higgins told me about. (The Nine-Box Method is not quite like the awesome cardboard box fort my kids built in the yard, pictured above, other than, perhaps, the fact that if one box collapses the whole structure is compromised.) I fill out the Nine-Box, then make a list of chapters. The books are roughly 22,000 to 25,000 words each, so I try to have twenty-one or more chapters that are each about 1,000 words. Again, this is less me consciously saying “these books must each fit into X pages exactly” and more just knowing that these are books that will need to be written under deadline so I’ll need a map.
More importantly, I want the books to be funny, and I have more room to be funny if I’m not worried about whether the plot makes sense. I can be very serious about the plot and what the chapters should be first, and then have the words in each chapter be ridiculously bananas.
I’ve started writing book two. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about yet, but it’s making me smile.