Writing: To Plan Or Not To Plan

Hello Everyone! Thanks for joining me.

Today I am writing about planning. Not planning to write, we covered that in my last post. I’m talking about planning your book.

Let’s jump straight in …

There are a few lucky writers who know exactly what they want to write. They know their characters inside and out, they have already chosen their names. They have already imagined the world the story will take place in, and they know how the entire storyline will play out. They may have been imagining and dreaming about their book for a long time. These writers may be happy to simply sit down and start writing their first draft. They may be able to fill in any ‘holes’ either as they go or in a future draft.
Then there are the writers that have a very basic story outline in their minds. They know the main characters and one or two events that happen during the story, and they know how they want their story to end. But what about the journey? How will the characters meet? How will the characters get from point A, to point B, to point C etc., through to this wonderful, dramatic ending? Who will they meet along the way? Where and when will the story be set? In a real time and place or some imagined world in the future? Or maybe even a parallel universe? A lot for the writer to think about and research before starting to write the body of the story.

Then you have the writers who only really have the main characters in mind. These characters are real, want their story to be told, and have chosen you to tell it. All you can do is sit down with your paper and pen or at your computer and start writing/typing/ your characters will tell you what to write and you can fill in any blanks or ‘holes’ later.

These are just some examples of a few types of writers; there are many who fall somewhere in between or are a mixture of these.

Wherever you fall on the writing-type spectrum, you will need to do some planning somewhere along the way. There is now right or wrong time, you need to do what works best for you. You also need to work out what type of planning works best too.

Here are some ideas that I have read about:
⦁ A detailed 50-page outline before they begin.
⦁ Just start writing and ‘wing it’.
⦁ Janet Evanovich, speaking about her great series starring Stephanie Plum, wrote in her book ‘How I Write’ that she is somewhere in between. She starts with her characters and writes a short character sketch for each of her main characters. Then she picks a location and decides what the crime is going to be. Once she is happy with these elements, she writes a timeline for the action to happen. In her words, she ‘knows the beginning and the end and a bunch of things that happen along the way.’ She usually writes approximately five pages. It gives her some of the plot points and a direction for her book.
⦁ Diana Gabaldon’s, author of the ‘Outlander’ series, planning is different again. She takes years to research and write each of her books. Check out her website here to find out more.

Let me write a little more about outlines …

I read recently than an outline for your book can be described as ‘mapping your way to “The End”‘. You write an outline before you start writing and use it as a road map as you write. It is a document-in-progress, as you will probably find yourself revising (if not re-creating it) as you go. As you saw in the examples above, an outline can be along or as short as you want or need. It doesn’t need to be a neat document, all beautifully formatted, it can be notes you have scribbled in a notebook. You are the only one who needs to see your outline.

It can be called a road map because that describes an outline well. The purpose of your outline is to help you map your way through your story, minimising any ‘wrong turns’.

Your ouline helps your characters to begin their journey, and can provide a basic route for them to follow.

Having an outline helps you to keep your focus while writing and makes you think about what is important about your characters, your plot, the emotional development of a relationship (if applicable), and also how all these elements fit into the book’s world. it leaves your creative side free to focus on the more emotional and artistic elements.
By having an outline, it helps order your thoughts for when you are asked, ‘What are you working on at the moment?’, or ‘So, you’re a writer. What do you write about?’.
Having an outline might also give you an idea of how long your book might become. WHile writing the outline, you might realise that there is just too much action or plot twists to fit into one book. This may give you the idea of writing a series instead of trying to fit everything into one book.

If you have never written an outline for a book before, you may be wondering what to put into it. The answer is: whatever you want. Unhelpful I know, but it’s the truth. You will want to put anything that will help you write your book in your outline.

Here are some basics to get you started:

Who are your hero and/or heroine, and what is the basis of their emotional conflict?
Your answers to these questions are extremely important to the setup and development of relationship between the main characters and the plot of your book.

Where, and how, will your book begin?
You need to decide what goes on page one. As you would have undoubtedly noticed while reading other author’s books, you don’t need to start your book at birth, unless it is important to the storyline/plot. Some of the main character’s background information is not needed or can be referred to late as flashbacks or memories if it is needed.
Some authors find it helpful to write a couple of chapters just to get to know the characters better. This can help in giving you an idea of where these characters are driving the story. It doesn’t matter if you end up not using those chapters later.
How will the big events/plot twists/big action scenes of the story happen and fit together?

By writing these in you outline, you will be able to see if the storyline makes logical sense. Without having these in your outline, you could end up in a big mess with a storyline that jumps around and is confusing. Which means more re-writing for you once you realise.

How will your character’s developing relationships with other characters affect the story line and vise versa?
Whether it’s a developing love-interest, a family relationship, or even a friendship, these will impact your story line. Your story needs to have ’emotional’ logic just as much as it needs ‘chronological’ logic. If the character’s behaviour doesn’t make sense, then it will only lead to reader confusion. You do not want that!

The same can be said for how the story line effects your characters too. Your characters need to have logical reactions to events taking place in your story, otherwise the reader will disconnect.

Remember, your outline is for you, and you only. No one else needs to see it. It is purely for your benefit.

Another benefit of having an outline, is that it might show you where you need to do some research. Maybe your story line is set in 17th-century England and you need to find out some specifics about particular aspects of the legal system? If you do the research before sitting down to write, you won’t need to break your creative flow to stop and research. (I will be doing a post in the near future about researching.)

As an editor, one of my most important tasks is to question. Readers are always thinking and asking questions in theirs minds as they read. If I can ask all the questions, and have to author answer them before the story goes to publication, then the reader won’t need to ask them, and they can stay ‘in’ your story with no interruptions.

I admit that I really enjoy it when I read a client’s project, and they have left me with no (or few) questions to ask. Keep it in the back of your mind that questions need answers. Question everything! What shaped your character’ characters? How did they get involved in the story line? Do the character’s responses to situations and each other make sense? Are the situations/plot-points believable? You get the point.

Please remember that your outline is there to help you. It gives you a framework around which your creativity can shine. It allows you to not worry about the mundane details and concentrate on your characters and emotions.

To be honest, I love plans. I love chesklists, but that’s me. Not everyone feels the same. Do what feels right for you.

Note from Jenni: I hope you found this post helpful. Next time I will be sharing a post about creating characters. Please follow my blog so you don’t miss out on any upcoming posts.

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me via my Contact Me page or leave a comment below. To find out more about my services, visit My Services page. You can also find me on Facebook by clicking the ‘F’ icon at the bottom of any page on my website.

Jenni Wade is a fiction copyeditor, line editor and proofreader who specialises in helping self-publishing authors, first-time authors, and helping businesses with their documentation. She is the Advertising Manager and an assistant editor for the Home Education Network magazine Otherways.

(Picture courtesy of Pexel)

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