Do you need a plan?


I wrote a few weeks ago about how I start a book. I wrote all about how I plan out each chapter and come up with more or less the complete story before I start writing. Well it turns out I’m a liar. I didn’t realise it at the time, but now I see I am.

What am I talking about?

I recently started writing a new book, Angel Bones. I went about doing all the stream of consciousness stuff and mapped out the main characters and started with a chapter outline but got impatient to get started so I tore into it. As I wrote I wasn’t sure exactly where the story was going and what the main plot would be. I had some characters with a bunch of issues and a world dripping with story potential. I’ve stopped at chapter nine to write this blog and while doing so I discovered that my first novel (unpublished as yet) wasn’t all that planned out either.

But you said…

My first novel, The West Queen, had a chapter by chapter synopsis from start to end. A plot developed, reached a peak and ended. But after I wrote that and started revising I found the story was flawed. Right at the end I added a sort of epilogue that would lead into a book two. When I wrote that epilogue one of the “bad guys” did something and said something that threw new light on the events of the book. When that combined with my desire to refocus the story on Princess Candia West (name yet to be finalised) and to rewrite Vanadian into a more interesting character I found I hadn’t written the story I had planned. I’ve rewritten the first ten chapters according to the new order and suddenly it all makes far more sense.

Do you need a plan?

This brings me full circle to the topic of this blog. I initially laid out extensive plans and outlines for my first two stories, but for my third I was so excited about getting into it that I stopped mid plan and started writing. I’ve since developed a theme and more of a plot for Angel Bones and I’m enjoying the dynamic nature of it. I don’t think I could have written The West Queen without a full outline even if the final story is somewhat different to the plan. I think this is probably true of any story. Having a plan for it is important as it gives direction and sets the writer in motion. But I think it is equally important to feel free to diverge from the plan. As the story forms a solid whole in your head it becomes easier to see the weaknesses and strengths. As an outline you can’t see the finer points; you can’t see how the world and characters will interact. Without bending the plan to allow for character / world interaction you risk having an artificial feeling story populated by unrealistic characters.

Continuing to plan.

I’ll continue to plan my stories. I think it is important for me to have a skeleton outline to follow. It is difficult to spontaneously orchestrate large set piece scenes without a plan. Too often such scenes require many factors all aligning at the same time and that takes planning.

I would love to find out if anyone has managed to write a complete novel without a plan. A coherent, possibly published novel. Though I have read a couple of Steven King novels that felt a bit unplanned.

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About sjohnhughes

Author, nerd, father, runner and more View all posts by sjohnhughes

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