All Writers Plan

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/490615 by Ann- Kathrin Rehse http://www.sxc.hu/profile/kaliloPantsers seem to take umbrage, sometimes extreme, to my statement that planning is vital to writing.

Let’s get what I hope is an unbiased definition of “plan” from Merriam Webster:

plan verb: to think about and arrange the parts or details of (something) before it happens or is made

Let’s consider writing without planning:

  • Do you think about the gender of your protagonist in advance?
  • Is a particular genre intended?
  • Are you writing for adults, children, youths?
  • Will the general tone be happy, sad, or intentionally neutral?
  • Short story, novella, novel?

I could go on. Really I could.

I’d truly love for anyone who has simply sat down and started writing without “thinking about the details of (something) before it is made” to share how they’ve avoided answering, not all, but even one of the questions in that list.

Planning does not mean a 42-page outline. It does not imply, in and of itself, any level of detail whatsoever. 9 sentences will do nicely.

But, no planning? At all?

I don’t believe you.

2 thoughts on “All Writers Plan

  1. Are there some writers who think, “Now I’m going to write a story. Let’s see…who should this be about? What problems are they going to have? What complications are going to enter the picture? etc.” Maybe the Nancy Drew writers?
    For me, I often see a situation that needs help. In “The Wise Man on the Mountain” I was considering the problem of a Christian pastor friend who wandered off course because he started to lean on his own understanding in every situation. He had good understanding, too, initially — many sought his counsel — but as time went on he was ALWAYS right — no corrections needed or heeded. One day I was mulling this over and the story line kind of fell into my mind: the parable of a man who fell in love with his own wisdom.
    For me inspiration is like seeing a movie. A certain scene catches my eye and I stop to watch it unfold. I rerun it here and there to get the details clear. When I sit down to write it’s like I’m relating the scenes of the movie I watched or the book I read. I may forget a few details, some scenes have gotten fuzzy, but basically the story line’s up there on file. I’ve worked on it for months or years; now I just spill it out.
    Consequently I never use an outline or written plan. Maybe someday I’ll try it. For now I write what I see and don’t let the MC paint the scenes for fear she’d paint herself into a corner and then I’d have to rewrite the whole story to give her a path out. (O, me of little faith!)

    1. It seems pantsers always assume that planning is black and white: plan nothing, or plan every detail.

      Larry Brooks teaches authors to answer 9 questions about their story. If you’ve got those 9 answers, you have the entire novel sorted, yet you’ve still got 99,900 words in which to let your imagination roam.

      And if the plan changes, that’s okay. Planning doesn’t mean putting oneself in a box and making sure no creative urges or new understanding is allowed to taint the original plan.

      Your explanation of inspiration is perfectly compatible with planning — which is what you’re doing when you decide what the story will be about, who the main character is, and what problem they’ll be solving or experiencing.

      Detailed outlines work for some. Scraps of insight work for others.

      But all writers plan. All of them.

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