Plan or Wing It?

You may have heard a lot about writers who wing it… they write as they go, without any planning. Called seat-of-your-pantsers, or pantsers for short, some of them really bring it. Their stories unfold like a blooming rose, with all of the elements of storycraft in place. However, most writers can’t do this. Stephen King is one of those gifted writers who can get all of the elements in place without the planning.

Most writers who write this way are not Stephen King. They may get all those pages written and find out that something is missing. Or they got repetitive. Or they went off on a tangent. The truth is, you don’t have to be a pantser to get that creative rush from your writing. Most authors benefit from planning, even a little. Planning can help you avoid those pitfalls and holes in your story. Like yesterday’s tips on characterization, you can have it all with just a little planning on your part.

It can be daunting to keep the subplots, the plot-behind-the-plot, the plot that your book is about, all the characters, their mistakes, flaws and goals, and everything else you need all in your head. You haven’t failed if you have to use a pad of paper, notes on your computer or sticky notes all over your work space. In fact, you may find that they make it easier for you.

JK Rowling, when writing her massive Harry Potter series, had notebooks full of backstory, characters, details about the wizarding world, and more. While you may not have to be that extensive, stay open to keeping notes and writing detailed character sketches. They will make your work easier. Can you imagine getting to the finished stage in half the time it might have taken you if you tried to keep it all in your head? It is possible, if you are organized and know your plot and characters.

I recommend a couple books that may help in this regard if you are unsure whether planning is really for you.

Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, by Roz Morris. Roz shares her secrets to finding the holes in your story and getting them plugged.

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. Larry has broken fiction writing into six core competencies that will keep your stories on track and riveting.

Of course, utilizing readers and writers’ groups are also very helpful in making sure you don’t have a gap or that your characters are well-fleshed and believable. There are many writers on Twitter and Facebook who form online groups and chats that can help them connect and critique each others’ work when a real life group is not available.

So, do you plan your story or wing it? Planning does not have to crush your creativity; in fact, it can enhance it. No plan is written in stone, so if the story changes, so can the plan. Plans can also help you when you get stuck or need inspiration. If you’ve never tried planning a book before, give it a try. You may be surprised. That germ of an idea may sprout and grow with a plan.