To plan or not to plan..?

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Whether you waited for that brilliant flash of inspiration or spent hours brainstorming the perfect plot line, every first draft starts with a tiny acorn of an idea. Just as this seed needs water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to nurture it in to an Oak, a novel, in incredibly basic terms, needs a plot, characters and a setting. However, when you consider how many ways there are to create and develop each part of this formula, it suddenly doesn’t look nearly as manageable.

The catalyst that started this process for me was the image of a character. I knew what he looked like, what his name was, and what he did to survive, but that was it. I didn’t know his story, why he had to go to such lengths to support himself at the tender age of 14, or anything else about him. So I decided to start at the beginning of the formula and work on developing the series of events that I was going to put my character through to turn my idea from a character study into a novel.

Excited to begin, I started the way i’ve approached every story idea i’ve had since the age of four when I wrote my first short story about a monkey called Bingo who wore bright pink doc martin boots, proudly modeled after my very own pair. I sat down and started writing seat-of-the-pants style. Somehow it took me this long to realize that there is probably a correlation between my lack of planning and the fact that in the 15 years since I started writing I have yet to complete an entire novel, let alone publish one. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a seat-of-the-pants writer, I admire those who are able to do it, but for me it’s painful. It feels like trying to drive down a country lane at night without my headlights on.

I realized that in order for me to have any hope of bringing life to my character, I had to develop some sort of planning process. Having never attempted this before, in fact most of my school years were spent thinking of ways to escape the dreaded planning section of essay writing, I decided to do some research and try out a couple of methods.

The planning experience for me was both incredibly beneficial, and incredibly harmful. In the end I knew roughly what was going to happen in the beginning, middle and end of my novel, which has proved invaluable in giving me the push I need to keep writing. However, half way through I found myself so overloaded with planning each individual step of each chapter that my writing became flat and boring and in the end I became completely blocked (more on this in a future post).

The only solution for me was to strike a balance. After experimenting with two planning techniques (The Snowflake Method and The Grid Method), I finally developed my own. Over the next couple of days I’ll be giving a brief overview of both methods, what worked for me and what didn’t, as well as the one I created for myself. If you’re a seat-of-the-pants style writer feel free to ignore any posts that don’t apply to you and tune back in to talk about character and getting down to the actual writing in a couple of days.

As for the age old question ‘to plan or not to plan?’ I think the only real answer is whatever feels right to you. How do you begin a novel? Do you just pick up a pen and write? Spend months creating a detailed chapter by chapter plot? or do a combination of the two?


3 thoughts on “To plan or not to plan..?

  1. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a seat-of-the-pants writer, I admire those who are able to do it,”

    Why, thank you, because that’s exactly what I am :). That’s mostly from ‘laziness’ though. I came home one day, and just decided that I wanted to write a novel. 360 short days later, I finished :). That behind said, though, next time I would probably attempt to write something down. I definitely did struggle with consistent writing when my plot stalled, which led to some annoying filler that I’ll have to get rid of or improve in the second draft.

    This is a great article, and I’ll be looking forward to more in the future.

  2. Well I admire your endurance and I’m even more impressed that you’ve managed to complete your first draft! Every time I started writing as a seat-of-the-pants writer I would end up writing five or so chapters that weren’t really going anywhere and then run out of ideas and stop. This is definitely partly because I hadn’t found a story I was passionate enough about to finish yet, but I think for me it helps to know roughly what the key plot points are so I know how the plot is going to progress otherwise I just end up going off on a lot of tangents! Well over the next couple of days I’ll be evaluating the planning methods I used to try and turn myself into a planner and the way I eventually created a balance between the two, so I hope that gives you some ideas. Thanks! I hope you continue to enjoy it :).

  3. Pingback: Give it to me straight, doc: the 8-step ‘Paramedic’ method for bringing your writing back to life «

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