Planning is Not a Bad Word

Not everyone plans their novels. That’s okay. But sometimes, planning can really help you avoid those gaping holes in your plot. It might help you avoid writer’s block. It might even help you write your book more efficiently. Why? Because not only have you thought out your plot line, you’ve taken the time to analyze why this action leads to that one.

One of my favorite lines from Plot vs. Character by Jeff Gerke goes something like this: In life, one thing happens after another. In novels, one thing happens BECAUSE of another.

In order to keep your plot barreling along, one thing must lead to another. Writers who don’t plan often end up rewriting whole scenes later because it occurs to them afterwards that one scene might work better if it were to happen because of another scene. By planning, you can avoid that and get it right the first time, making your rewriting and editing time more efficient.

I’ve heard so often, “But I can’t plan! It ruins my creativity!” Sigh. Even if you plan, nothing is written in stone. Think of a plan as a guide. A path through the woods, even. It doesn’t mean you can’t wander off on the path to the left, it just means you have a map to get back to your story line. If the path to the left works out and adds some great element to your story, that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t, you’re not lost on page 227 with nowhere to go.

Planning is not an enemy. Planning lets you flesh out your characters so they’re more believable. It gives your plot somewhere to go. Make changes all you want, but having at least a basic plan can really help you work through your story.

Let’s suppose that Ben has plans to take Linda out on a romantic date. It occurs to you as you write that his friend Bob shows up earlier that afternoon, and they completely space on the date because they are having too much fun, leaving Linda feeling like Ben is a real jerk. Later, you are writing a romantic scene between Linda and Ben, only to have spaced on the fact that Ben stood her up. You won’t remember all the details until you reread what you’ve written, leaving you the task to rewrite that romantic scene. Not so romantic now, is it? Planning could have prevented this, because you could refer to a few notes and you could jot in the new ideas that occurred during your writing session.

Okay, I know planning doesn’t work for everyone. But for many writers, especially those working on their first few books, planning can really help. This is especially true if you have a complicated plot or many characters to keep track of. At least give it a try. Use whatever works for you, you don’t have to outline the story. Post-its work well for some people. Others use specialized programs like Scrivener.  Play around with various techniques and see what works for you.